JACK’S ROAD TO GLORY

Mercury (Hobart) - - FRONT PAGE - ADAM SMITH

HE IS from some of the finest Tas­ma­nian foot­ball stock but Jack Riewoldt was not al­ways des­tined to play AFL.

Par­ents Chris and Les­ley, in­set, said the boy who was to be­come a Rich­mond star played soccer in his early school years and even dab­bled in bound­ary um­pir­ing.

And, when he did take up footy, he was “never a stand­out” — un­til he hit Grade 10 and joined Clarence and made his se­nior de­but as a 15-year-old.

Riewoldt will re­alise a dream when he lines up against Ade­laide in the AFL Grand Fi­nal to­day.

RICH­MOND star Jack Riewoldt might have al­ways been des­tined to play AFL foot­ball but it wasn’t un­til high school when the wheels re­ally be­gan turn­ing.

As the el­dest of three sons to Chris — who played 297 games with Clarence, win­ning two best and fairests, three pre­mier­ships, rep­re­sented Tas­ma­nia 18 times and is a mem­ber of the AFL Tas­ma­nia Hall of Fame — the foot­ball blood­lines were al­ways there.

But it was the world game which grabbed Jack’s at­ten­tion dur­ing his early years, un­til cousin Nick was drafted by St Kilda.

“In a way, he [Jack] prob­a­bly was des­tined but he re­ally only dab­bled in foot­ball when he was in pri­mary school, he was more fo­cused on soccer,” Chris said.

“It wasn’t un­til he went to St Vir­gil’s in Grade 7 and that co­in­cided with [cousin] Nick be­ing drafted, that got him a bit more ex­cited about foot­ball, so he started play­ing AFL.

“Even through his high school time, he was a good player but never a stand­out, he never won a best and fairest at high school or any­thing like that.

“As soon as he moved from St Vir­gil’s and de­cided to play at Clarence, and that was when he was in Year 10, he went ahead in leaps and bounds.

“He ended up play­ing se­nior foot­ball that year as a 15year-old and I was start­ing to think then: ‘I reckon you can play a bit here’.”

Be­fore he be­came a se­ri­ous draft prospect, Jack also took up um­pir­ing for one sea­son.

“I think he was in Grade 9 when he spent a year up at the um­pires as­so­ci­a­tion as a bound­ary um­pire. [He] was very good at it,” Chris said.

“He rose through the ranks quite quickly from coun­try re­serves to some of the more prom­i­nent se­nior games in the coun­try. At the end of the year, he won the best up and com­ing um­pire, I think they might have thought they had a good um­pire com­ing though.

“But it was prob­a­bly more about earn­ing a bit of cash.”

To­day Jack will ful­fil a life­long am­bi­tion when he runs on to the MCG for Rich­mond in the Grand Fi­nal against Ade­laide.

Chris and wife Les­lie, as well as broth­ers Harry and Char­lie, will cheer him on from the stands, hop­ing the Tigers can end a 35-year pre­mier­ship drought.

It will be Chris’ first Grand Fi­nal since the re­play of the draw be­tween St Kilda and Colling­wood in 2010.

“It has been a child­hood dream, ever since Jack has wanted to play foot­ball and wanted to play AFL, it has been

his goal, to play in an AFL Grand Fi­nal,” Chris said.

“You could see from the emo­tion he showed after the fi­nal siren last week, he was al­most re­lieved after 11 years, he has fi­nally achieved what he wanted to do, and that’s to play in a Grand Fi­nal.

“Now he needs to go one step fur­ther to win one.

“We couldn’t go to the drawn one be­cause it was [Jack’s youngest brother] Char­lie’s 18th, we had a big party at home but when they got a draw, I said to Harry we are go­ing.

“We went and, after the game, I turned to Harry and said: ‘ We are never com­ing back to a Grand Fi­nal un­til Jack plays in one’.”

In the op­po­site camp to­day will be the Green­woods, who have charted Hugh’s rapid rise from bas­ket­ball prodigy into the foot­ball ranks.

Two years ago, Hugh made the bold move to turn his back on an NBL con­tract with the Perth Wild­cats to join the Crows and this af­ter­noon it could end with a pre­mier­ship medal­lion.

But re­gard­less of the re­sult, par­ents Mike and An­dree — who is fight­ing sec­ondary breast can­cer — feel priv­i­leged to sim­ply have seen their son achieve his dreams.

“Ev­ery game is the same for us, it is amaz­ing,” said Mike, who has driven with An­dree from Ade­laide to Mel­bourne after last Fri­day’s pre­lim­i­nary fi­nal.

“There has not been one game that has not been spe­cial for us, we keep on pinch­ing our­selves. He played in Ve­gas in front of a record crowd of 18,000 when they won the con­fer­ence, we thought that was spe­cial. You can’t de­scribe it. Even last week An­dree and I were sit­ting there watch­ing our son in Fri­day night footy.

“For us, we have such mas­sive highs and then un­for­tu­nately we have mas­sive lows, so we live this emo­tional roller­coaster but, if it wasn’t for the highs, you don’t dare think what it would be like.”

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