Started at the floor, now there's no ceiling for Mihocek
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Started at the floor, now there's no ceiling for Mihocek

When he arrived at Collingwood, Brody Mihocek already knew something of Scott Pendlebury that others didn’t. The rookie had an insight into his new captain that was close to home.

Actually, very close to home. Mihocek was working at a timber and flooring company that put the floors in for Pendlebury’s house renovation.

Started from the bottom: Brody Mihocek.

Started from the bottom: Brody Mihocek.

Photo: Shane Barrie

The Pies skipper didn’t know it at the time, but the bloke working at the company driving the forklift, packing boxes, doing whatever needed to be done, was to become his team’s new centre half-forward.

When they finally met, Mihocek asked him how the floors in his renovation had come up. Pendlebury did a double take that he knew so much about flooring and his house.

Mihocek was at work on the Monday of the rookie draft last year. Originally from the town of Cooee in Tasmania – the home of John Greening – he had taken 25 years, two states and three VFL teams to get to this point. So he was expecting nothing when the rookie draft began.

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“Collingwood said they were interested but I kept it to myself and the day of the rookie draft it was the lunch break at work and (Collingwood recruiter) Dom Milesi rang me and said 'it’s a good chance we’ll take you'.

“I hadn’t wanted to get my hopes up too much but after that phone call at lunch I was up and about for the rest of the working day.”

Collingwood called out his name. He was thrilled but felt guilty – he’d have to quit his job and he knew that would leave them in the lurch.

He was at Collingwood at 8am the next day for his new job. It was all a whirl but by late in the day he asked if it was OK if he could leave. Of course, they said, but what is the matter?

He explained he still had the work car and he was worried they would need it. He wanted to get it back before the close of business. He needn’t have hurried, his suddenly former workmate was a mad Collingwood fan and so thrilled for his friend he told him to hang on to the car until he sorted himself out with something else (rookie wages are not extravagant, after all).

“It was a weird transition,” he said.

“It took a while but they are sorted now. It worked out in the end. There was a bit of guilt about leaving. I went in there a few days leading up to Christmas on my days off to help out. I did all I could but that car situation was a bit tricky.”

In the end, the 25-year-old flooring and timber company worker from Tasmania and who came to the AFL via three VFL clubs, recruited as a defender, got his first game as a forward.

Mihocek switched from defence to forward early in the year when injuries hit other forwards Ben Reid and Darcy Moore. In his 12 games since his debut he has kicked more goals (23) than any other Collingwood forward. His path to the Pies' forward line might have been unconventional, but his success on arrival is undeniable.

“He averages a bit over two goals a game and he has never played forward before,” Pendlebury said.

“Credit to our recruiting staff for bringing him in but most of the credit goes to Brody for doing the work and understanding to be a backman what you need to do to play in our side and then getting told he has to go forward, how quickly he picked that up. You can see he is a natural footballer, good hands, incredibly intelligent, good goal sense.

“We joke now that if he played forward he would have been drafted at 18.”

When injuries hit defenders Linden Dunn and Moore (switched to defence), Nathan Buckley largely resisted the urge to send Mihocek back. The logic by then was that he was working as a forward so why create a problem to solve a problem?

Mihocek says the switch to the forward line has been surprisingly easy.

“When 'Dunny' went down with his knee the speculation in the media that week was that I would go down back but straight after the game Bucks said ‘we are happy with you there, we will sort the defence out.'”

There could still be a chance he switches back within a game as he did briefly when Dunn went down, and this week could be one such occasion against Jack Darling, Josh Kennedy and ruckman Nathan Vardy pushing forward – but the first option is for him to stay in the forward line.

His long history as a defender taught him what defenders don’t like in forwards. So he keeps on the move.

One of the slows on Mihocek by recruiters before he was drafted was his pace and agility. That has not been evident in his game since making his debut.

“I always thought it was only in testing, once I am out there I am just as quick as the bloke next to me. I knew I did my best when I was out on the ground, not trying to run through laser beams and time trials, once I am out there I feel quick.”

Michael Gleeson is a senior AFL football writer and Fairfax Media's athletics writer. He also covers tennis, cricket and other sports. He won the AFL Players Association Grant Hattam Trophy for excellence in journalism for the second time in 2014 and was a finalist in the 2014 Quill Awards for best sports feature writer. He was also a finalist in the 2014 Australian Sports Commission awards for his work on ‘Boots for Kids’. He is a winner of the AFL Media Association award for best news reporter and a two-time winner of Cricket Victoria’s cricket writer of the year award. Michael has covered multiple Olympics, Commonwealth Games and world championships and 15 seasons of AFL, He has also written seven books - five sports books and two true crime books.