ONE conversation at Eureka Stadium helped change Tony Lockyer’s direction off the field.
And he has not looked back since.
Straight out of high school, Lockyer tried university and realised it was not for him.
Lockyer was entering his third year in the North Ballarat Rebels TAC Cup program and sat down with Rebels regional manager Phil Partington and Roosters coach Gerard FitzGerald, unsure what he wanted to do next.
Within an hour or so, they lined up a trade for him to try.
Since that conversation in March, Lockyer has relished a building apprenticeship under Roosters’ goal sneak Bill Driscoll.
It all just seemed to fit.
“I’m loving it. I haven’t looked back since I started,” Lockyer said.
“Dad’s a bricklayer but I never thought that I’d ever be in a trade.
“Everyone at school is so focused on getting into uni – it seemed like the thing to do.
“But I like being outdoors, I’m more of an outdoors person.”
The 19-year-old had seen Driscoll about the footy club but had never really met him until Driscoll became his boss.
Talk about their football at work is minimal.
First thing on Monday mornings the pair usually have a quick chat about the weekend’s game.
Lockyer, vice-captain at the Rebels, said it was important to make a life outside and away from football – and Driscoll tended to try and mentor him more about girls than he did about football.
Mostly, Lockyer enjoyed the banter on site while learning the trade.
Lockyer has quickly slipped into his new routine since starting his apprenticeship and said it helped having two carpenters for housemates – Rooster Coleman Schache and Rebel Will Pomorin – who kept similar schedules with work and football.
But it is invaluable having a flexible and understanding boss.
“Bill’s been great all year working in with my footy,” Lockyer said.
“We usually work until 5pm and training starts at 4.30pm so he’ll let me go straight away or a little early.
“I can’t thank him enough for this year ... any time off I need, he’ll give it no questions asked.”
Lockyer has proven a key playmaker in the Rebels’ sharp midfield this season, his form earning a call-up to next month’s AFL state combine.
The former Sebastopol junior felt his game had stepped up in line with the entire playing squad this season.
Lockyer said the Rebels program had changed a lot in his three years with the club, especially under coach David Loader the past two seasons.
“We’ve had a lot more success this year I think because we’ve had a lot more player involvement,” Lockyer said.
“The players drive decisions a lot more and we had that a bit last year.”
The Rebels claimed the TAC Cup minor premiership and earned a break this week by staking a spot in next week’s preliminary finals.
It took a thrilling two-point win and five-goal turnaround against Sandringham in last week’s qualifying final to get there.
Lockyer said that was the best football game he had ever played in.
“We were up against it all game ... the last quarter, how we played the way we did, there was a lot of celebration,” Lockyer said.
The Rebels will face the winner of Sunday’s semi-final between Dandenong and Oakleigh, each with strong outfits.
Lockyer said the Rebels playing squad was just focused on preparing to play their best football, regardless of who they might meet.
This weekend is a chance to rest and refresh bodies for what is certain to be a tough assignment at Carlton’s Visy Park next week.