Matthew Nicks’ mum reveals how a shocking injury suffered playing soccer steered him towards Aussie rules, and ultimately, led him to becoming the ninth coach of the Adelaide Crows.
AT the time, it floored him. But 30 years on, it might have been the lucky “break’’ that made him.
Matthew Nicks, who on Tuesday was appointed the Adelaide Crows’ ninth full-time AFL coach, only turned to football after a shocking injury suffered playing soccer as a 14-year-old.
Nicks’ mum, Bev, has revealed that her youngest son had planned to pursue a soccer career until copping a horrific kick to the shin, which shattered his leg.
“He’d had a few injuries at soccer and this one was so bad, his leg was badly broken, that he decided he’d had enough,’’ Bev said.
“He was out for a year and then some of his closest friends started to go out to footy training at Blackwood High School and he joined them.
“The following season he was out at the West Adelaide Football Club and the rest, I guess, is history.’’
His dad, Denis, had played football at Edwardstown but Nicks began playing soccer soon after starting school as a five-year-old at Blackwood Primary.
Bev noticed early on that he had some leadership qualities. “Matthew had some talent but he also seemed to be a kid that the others would follow,’’ she said. “The team started winning and kept winning, and away they went.
“They were only young kids but they had an enthusiastic coach who brought them all together. They went on to have a lot of success right through primary school and into their early high school years. Looking back, that was an important part of Matthew’s development, for his growth and where he is today.’’
Bev remembers him showing enormous talent.
“Matthew always seemed to be running towards goal, either passing or scoring himself,’’ she said.
“Soccer is a lovely game and maybe it was luck or maybe it was the coach, but the team had a great bond and won a lot of games and the players all became very close. They played together for a long time, went on to play in SAPSASA tournaments and state competitions together, and many of the boys are still close.
“Matty was always the sociable one and has stuck with those friendships.
“He’s never forgotten his mates.’’
Nicks’ older brother, Paul, three years his senior, also played soccer at school.
When the Crows entered the AFL in 1991, Nicks would join his dad in watching their home games at Football Park.
He recalled the moment he wanted to take his football seriously.
“I remember the spot in the outer (of Football Park) and I said to myself, ‘I’m playing AFL … I have to play this game’,’’ Nicks said.
“It’s surreal now to be coming in as head coach.’’
In 1994, after Nicks had played under-18s and in a reserves premiership alongside Adelaide great Tyson Edwards for the Bloods, he was selected by Sydney at pick 21 at the AFL national draft.
Nicks believes he was close to becoming a Crow in 1994, with Adelaide showing interest in using their pick No. 27 on him.
“I had a small tear when I was drafted by Sydney,” he said.
“Adelaide had pick 27 … I was this close to staying.”
Rob Snowdon, the man who was largely responsible for calling his name, remembers being impressed by the teenager’s athleticism and character.
“We knew he’d come from a soccer background and he’d displayed a lot of those traits with his football,’’ said Snowdon, who at the time was the Swans’ football operations manager and had a strong hand in recruiting before later joining Port Adelaide.
“He was relatively new to football but he was super quick, had great balance, in that he always kept his feet and he wasn’t a fumbler.
“We took him higher in the draft than most people expected, but we liked his ability to weave through traffic and play that half-back flanker/wingman role.
“And he was an impressive young fella. His parents are quality people, and I’ve always thought that you can measure someone a little bit by their parentage. Matthew was pretty mature for an 18-year-old, articulate, well educated, all that sort of stuff.
“And he wasn’t bland. He had a sense of humour, a bit of scallywag about him, but in a nice way.
“It all added up to us thinking he would be a good fit at our football club.’’
Snowdon noted that Nicks had to do things tough early on, being drafted to a team that had finished bottom for three consecutive years and won only eight of 64 games.
The great Ron Barassi had been brought out of coaching retirement to steer the ship in late 1993 and was in charge when Nicks arrived at the SCG.
“Matthew joined a struggling team, there is no denying it,’’ Snowdon said.
“He arrived at the same time as Michael O’Loughlin (pick 40) and Simon Arnott (87) and they lived together and formed a great bond.”
Nicks had a particularly rough start.
In Snowdon’s words, he was “cleaned up’’ in one of his first training sessions by teammate Dean McRae and had his shin badly fractured.
“It was a horrible injury and could have ruined his AFL career before it started,’’ Snowdon said. “But fortunately we were able to get him back up and going.’’
Nicks did not make his AFL debut until round three 1996 against Collingwood, and managed just six games in his debut year.
But with AFL greats Tony Lockett and Paul Roos having been lured to the club in the same year as Nicks, the Swans jumped from 15th to 12th in 1995 and remarkably played in a grand final in 1996, under new coach Rodney Eade.
Snowdon gives Nicks credit for playing a key role in the famous “Bloods” culture, established at the Swans following Stuart Maxfield’s arrival from Richmond in ’96.
“Matthew was a very team-oriented person,’’ Snowdon said. “Stuey was the driver of the ‘Bloods’ culture but Matty played a big part in it.
“He was all about team values and that ‘do it for each other’ style.
“He took that style up to GWS this year (as senior assistant coach) and helped turn them into the tight unit that we saw in the finals.’’
Nicks cruelly missed the Swans’ 72-year drought-breaking premiership in 2005, after a succession of serious injuries resulted in his retirement at age 31.
He played his 175th and final game in the round 11 win against Carlton.
“It was an unfortunate ending for him because he deserved to be a part of that premiership team,’’ said Snowdon.
Fellow South Australian O’Loughlin, who would go on to become one of the club’s greats in playing 303 games and kicking 521 goals from 1995-2009, said Nicks’ selflessness was displayed in his attitude straight after the ’05 flag.
“He was the first one there patting everyone on the back, saying ‘well done, well done’,’’ O’Loughlin recalled.
“I think it’s a great appointment for the Crows.’’
Nicks started his coaching career by joining the Power as a development coach in 2011.
He also coached Scotch College’s first XVIII, which included Crows club champion Rory Laird.
Engaged to Courtney, Nicks is the father of three children, Ethan, 5, Isla, 4, and Harry, 2.
Bev, an excellent tennis player in her day, said she was delighted to see her son achieve his dream of becoming an AFL senior coach.
“I’m proud of any of his little successes,’’ she said.
“With Matty, he’s never been one to carry on too much about anything. But quietly I’m sure he’s very proud of being named Crows coach.
“It means a lot to him. I’m happy for him and thrilled that he’s been lucky enough over a long time to do something he is so passionate about. As a parent, that’s all you can ask for.’’