Eight years ago, on the strength of a phonecall from Fremantle's general manager of player management Brad Lloyd, Alex Silvagni resolved to pursue the childhood dream he thought long gone.
It was the summer of 2009, three years after Silvagni’s name had been passed over at the national draft, at a time when the boy from Pakenham was chasing the leather for Casey Scorpions.
Silvagni didn’t need to be asked twice.
“If you’re passionate and driven there are no barriers you can’t overcome,” he said recently, in reflecting on the decision to act on the lifeline Lloyd threw at him.
“I had to move away from family and across the country, to another state I hadn’t been before, and although I wasn’t young this was still a daunting experience. But playing League football was what I wanted to do, I didn’t want to be haunted by the question ‘What if?”, and while there were no guarantees I decided ‘I want to give this everything I’ve got’.”
The defining moment came in a subsequent intra-club match when Silvagni stood Matthew Pavlich no less. As Silvagni recalled: "I took marks on him and played pretty well, and I remember thinking at the time ‘Okay, I can match it with a genuine superstar of the game’. That gave me a real belief in my capabilities at AFL level".
Silvagni had seized the moment, and was duly taken by the Dockers with their second selection as a rookie in 2010. Come the opening round, he debuted with another journeyman Michael Barlow, and the injury-cruelled Anthony Morabito, earning Adelaide’s Taylor Walker as his first opponent on Subiaco Oval.
Silvagni’s 53 senior appearances through seven seasons at Fremantle were littered with highs and lows as the dependable backman, to quote HG and Roy, lived the dream.
Alex Silvagni as a Docker. (Photo: AFL Media)
And yet, no game gave him greater enjoyment than his last in Western Australia – the 2016 WAFL Grand Final – when he did his bit to secure Peel Thunder’s first premiership.
“I’d missed 14 or 15 weeks through injury, but managed three or four games to qualify for the WAFL team,” Silvagni said.
“I was fortunate to be part of a really great group of guys who were driven and excited at the prospect of being part of Peel’s first premiership. Very few of us had won a Premiership before - young blokes and old blokes from 18 to 31 – and they were 'in' just as we were 'in'.
“That whole finals series was fantastic. For me it was exhilarating and enjoyable, and I don’t think I’d felt as happy in football terms since my first season playing AFL.”
Fast forward eight years, and Silvagni has again traversed the Nullabor - albeit under vastly different circumstances.
“I was under no illusions that my time at Freo was coming to an end, what with the new direction of the club on the back of a very poor season, which was totally understandable,” Silvagni said philosophically.
Seizing the moment, he readied for life beyond the game. In Perth he completed his MBA and firmed up his business interests, amongst them a football academy in partnership with his old ‘Freo’ contemporary and good friend Matt de Boer.
And then came the Lloydesque call from his second cousin in October.
“Stephen (Silvagni) rang me to ask how I was going and where I believe I now stood in a football context,” Silvagni recalled. “At that time I wasn’t completely sure what I wanted to do, that maybe I was done with my football, and maybe it was time to move on and pursue other interests
“But the chat with Stephen and subsequent discussions with my family and fiancée Lindsay changed my perspective. It made me realise that I had unfinished business in football and didn’t want to go out the way I did at AFL level.
“It also made me realise that I still had a lot to offer the young kids given my experiences at AFL level and how empowering and rewarding it would be to impart knowledge and help them out - and at the same time keep the dream alive.”
In terms of his character, Silvagni is truly measured. Perhaps his capacity to keep it all in perspective is based on his understanding of the true hardships his paternal grandfather Vittorio Silvagni doubtlessly encountered as a Northern Italian migrant; and similarly his mother Sherry, who as a teenage girl of Anglo-Indian descent, bade farewell to the tea plantations of Madras for a two-acre property in Pakenham.
Now at Carlton, Silvagni has set himself the clichéd “week by week” objective. At 29 (he was born three days after the Blues rolled Hawthorn in the ’87 Grand Final), and having come off a difficult year with injury, he can’t afford to look too far ahead.
“I want to play every game and try to achieve something with this group, which I know is driven and well led,” Silvagni said.
“It’s a young group, although I don’t like using the word ‘young’ because it can often be used as an excuse and a cop-out – and as we saw last year with the Bulldogs, the competition’s evened out.”
Alex Silvagni hits the track in the navy blue. (Photo: AFL Media)
So as he turns the page of a new chapter in his football life, Alex Silvagni will continue to draw on his own life experiences – and stay true to two quotes which have stuck with him throughout.
The first is attributed to the Geelong premiership captain Tom Harley in an address to eight Fremantle footballers (Silvagni included) in a leadership development meeting in Melbourne in 2011; the second, to the Australian Lieutenant General David Morrison two years later.
“I remember a comment (from Harley) along the lines of ‘Make sure your own backyard’s clean before you seek standards from others’," Silvagni said.
“For me that tied in with what the Lieutenant said: 'The standard you walk by is the standard you accept’.”