The family trade
Steven Motlop giving Cyril Rioli the slip last week. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo
STEVEN Motlop goes to sit down, then remembers to clean up after himself so reaches for the eraser. As educational as his etchings may be, he doesn't want the next Geelong match committee meeting to be confronted by a detailed rundown of the Motlop family tree.
It's a big whiteboard, too, but when you've appended football clubs to names, you're talking about a very big tree. ''Well, there's my dad, Eddie, and he's got Shannon, Daniel, our sister Lauren, and me,'' Motlop had begun, many names and linking arrows earlier.
That Shannon played for North Melbourne and Melbourne, and Daniel for North and Port Adelaide, has long inspired Eddie Motlop's youngest son. But this is a Darwin family, and a famous one at that, so let's give the local scene its due.
''They all started at Nightcliff, at the Tigers,'' Steven says of his father and uncles, Mark, Mo and Paul. Mark Motlop is a Northern Territory Football League legend (who played a few seasons at Glenelg), and who took Eddie with him when he left Nightcliff for Wanderers a couple of decades ago. He coached Southern Districts, and now coaches Buffaloes, although the oldest of his three sons, Aaron, plays for Wanderers.
Uncle Mo coaches Nightcliff, whose team includes his two boys, Thomas and Marlon. Uncle Paul coaches Wanderers, although he used to play for Nightcliff and once coached ''Buffs''. His sons, Brenton and Jarrod (JJ), play for Wanderers, alongside cousins Shannon, Daniel and Aaron.
When Wanderers met Nightcliff in the NTFL preliminary final last month, there were half a dozen Motlops on the ground and one in each coach's box. Eddie Motlop coaches Wanderers reserves and used to be club president. Actually, Steven reckons his dad was more of a rugby league than footy man; Eddie has played and coached league at Nightcliff, and coached Souths, University and now Palmerston.
Speaking of rugby league, a cousin on mum Stephanie's side is Canberra Raiders hooker Travis Waddell. Oh, and away from Darwin, Marlon Motlop is playing his footy this winter with Swan Districts, Daniel is playing-coach of Meningie in the River Murray Football League, and Shannon is at St Arnaud, following stints with Robinvale and Dunolly.
Clearly, there are Motlops everywhere. But after Daniel and Marlon were cut by Port last year, only one remains on an AFL list. And Geelong is very happy to have him.
As an eight-year-old, Steven Motlop was among 30 family and friends who shoehorned themselves into the Melbourne house of Shannon's North Melbourne teammate, the late Gary Dhurrkay, in grand final week of 1999. He remembers sitting on Eddie's shoulders singing the theme song again and again, tagging Jason McCartney around Arden Street the next day.
His dream came into focus one Darwin night after a Wanderers game, when the lights went out and six Motlop cousins couldn't find their football. He remembers sitting with Marlon, talking about how much he wanted to play AFL, posing the question: ''How can we get drafted?''
He arrived at Geelong in late 2008 with his left arm in a sling, the shoulder freshly reconstructed. In January the right one was done, and after playing the last four games of the season in the VFL he hit the ground running in 2010. In his round-two debut, the left shoulder went again. ''I remember being down in the rooms, the feeling when you're sitting there and there's no one around,'' he says, recalling someone coming in to console him, and wanting only to be alone. ''You're thinking, 'Bloody hell, why me?'''
Motlop thinks being taken away from all that you love, all that you know, and crossing the country to follow your dream is a huge challenge for any young man - indigenous or otherwise. ''I've got respect for any bloke who's done it.''
He cherished having Nathan Djerrkura at the club when he arrived, who took him in, and his parents moved down for 18 months after that last shoulder injury. Just having them there when he came home gave him a boost, but when they returned home six months ago, he found he was happy on his own with his thoughts and his guitar.
''They talked about coming back but I said, 'Nah, I'm a big boy now.' I've turned 21, been away from home for four years now, I live on my own. I can handle myself I reckon.''
Shannon turns 32 this year but Steven reckons he's still got ''a kid brain''; he admits he'll always have that side too. It draws people to him, young and old.
Sister Lauren and her partner, Bomber Alwyn Davey's twin, have a four-year-old boy who he reckons is already a good thing to follow in his five AFL-playing uncles' footsteps. ''He's an incredible little kid, Waylon - all day he's either watching the footy, glued to it, or kicking the footy. Out in the backyard, kicking grubbers from the sidelines, he just knows how to do it, I don't understand how.'' He's also pretty sure Uncle Steven is Waylon's favourite.
His dream has grown up, too. He was never expected to be at the heart of the 2009 premiership, but last year left him feeling he should have been. ''I've never wanted to play AFL footy more in my life … the celebrations, the feeling, I can just picture it.
''I've seen the success of this club - and it's an incredible club, with incredible people, incredible history - and I want to be part of it.''