Tory Dickson’s journey to the big time has been different to most.
From school footy to a stint in the VFL, then back to local footy and a return to the VFL, Dickson waited six years for a chance he thought might arrive, then didn’t, and then finally eventuated when he thought it may have passed him by.
After all of that waiting, the veteran forward will play his 100th AFL match on Friday night.
It would have come sooner – if not for more waiting – with largely a combination of osteitis pubis and hamstring injuries to blame for keeping the goalkicker to just 17 of a possible 44 games, after being part of the 2016 premiership side.
“I guess it’s something I’ll look back on when I finish my career and be pretty proud that I got to that 100 games,” Dickson toldwesternbulldogs.com.au ahead of his milestone match.
“Especially with where I came from, playing VFL, VFL twos at Frankston Dolphins… and getting picked up after six years of missing out.
“It’s a nice milestone that I can cherish with my family.”
Dickson’s pre-AFL journey saw him spend four years at Frankston, then a quick detour to Noble Park in the Eastern Football League – where he played as “Plugger in the goal-square” – before being coaxed back to the VFL by the then Essendon-affiliated Bendigo Bombers.
The first two of those years at Frankston were largely spent in the seconds, before he established himself as one of the VFL’s better forwards.
“My first couple of years coming out of school, I felt like I had the talent but probably didn’t have the fitness base or the knowing how to work hard through football games,” Dickson said.
“It probably took me two years to find my feet, and then the next two years at Frankston I had strong years.
“When I didn’t get drafted those two years, I thought the dream was over.”
Dickson’s attention turned to family – and new son Riley – which saw him step back to local footy.
As a self-described stay-at-home full forward, Dickson snagged 112 goals in a premiership season for Noble Park.
Bendigo came calling – and Dickson delivered 48 goals in 19 games in 2011.
It was enough to capture the eye of the Bulldogs, who claimed him with pick 57 in the 2011 NAB AFL Draft.
He made his AFL debut in round one of his debut season.
It’s a game he remembers well – albeit not for his own success.
“I was a little bit second fiddle,' Dickson laughed.
“Clay Smith debuted as well on the same day, and he got taken off through cramp – but he’d already kicked four till about three quarter time.
“He was almost best-on in his first game.”
The learning for the now 31-year-old is that nothing comes easy in footy – a mindset that has served him well throughout his eight-year AFL career.
“Footy doesn’t get any easier, it’s a tough game,” Dickson said.
“You have some really high pinnacles and some real lows. 100 per cent concentration is needed all the time.
“I never thought I’d get one game, let alone 100 games.
“It’s definitely been a nice period of learning over the eight years I’ve been here. I’ve met some great people along the way, and a lot of people that have helped me as well.”
Dickson is thankful the Bulldogs came calling – and the Bulldogs faithful are equally thankful he came along.
He has built a reputation as a forward who’s made the most of his chances – which is almost reflective of his career.
Across the 2015 and 2016 seasons, where the Bulldogs played in an elimination final, and that famous fairy-tale run, Dickson was arguably the team’s most potent forward.
The sharpshooter averaged two goals a game in that period, booting 90.27 across 45 games as the Club built towards – and then achieved – the ultimate success.
“Milestones are lovely, but the premiership is the pinnacle.”
Dickson hopes there are more of both to come.
After an injury-hit two seasons, he’s determined to make the most of whatever footy he has in him in red, white and blue.
“I pride myself on my tackling and helping the team score, and doing what I can for the team,” Dickson said.
“Obviously the last couple of years haven’t been the greatest through injury, and I guess form, and a few other things.
“But I feel like I’m getting my body right now.
“We’ll see how the year goes… hopefully there’s more footy ahead.”