Rough road to the top

After years of hard work in rehab and on the training track, former Stingray Lewis Pierce finally took the field for his AFL debut last week. Picture: ST KILDA FOOTBALL CLUB


Trekking the toughest of paths to his AFL debut last Sunday, St Kilda ruckman Lewis Pierce is the embodiment of perseverance.
Pierce, 21, has been battling his way through the ranks ever since his first steps in TAC Cup for the Dandenong Stingrays fighting off niggling injuries that dogged his time in the under-18s competition.
He was thrown a lifeline to the AFL by St Kilda at pick 75 in the 2012 draft but that wasn’t the end of his tough road towards a Saints debut.
A back-injury in 2014 put him back into the rehab group and left the 202cm hard-running ruckman to endure another round of treatments to get his body right.
But this year he’s put that all behind him and after a monster month in the VFL, Pierce knew he stood a chance to get tapped on the shoulder to don number 42 for the first time as St Kilda ran out 17.8 (110) to 12.6 (78) victors over Carlton.
“One of our administration guys said I hadn’t filled in some application we have to do every week so I went down there, went into his office and I knew exactly what was going on as I thought I was a chance for most of the week,” Pierce said.
“Then Richo (coach Alan Richardson) came in and said ‘come into my office for a second’ and told me the good news.
“They filmed it and capture the moment when he tells me, but it was a bit of satisfaction I guess, a bit more because I had to wait so much longer than others to get my first game, so I was obviously pretty stoked.”
While the AFL experience was new territory for Pierce, his time in the St Kilda playing group has taught him to stay calm and prepare for any match in the same way.
“I guess for me being in the system for so long, it was easier to not to get overawed by the situation,” Pierce said.
“I knew I was pretty well prepared, my pre-game routine is the exact same every week and it was good in that way that there weren’t too many nerves.
“It was good to get out there as Joey Montagna said to me as we’re going out – ‘read the banner and take in the crowd as we run out’ so running up the race is one of the memorable parts of the day.”
His other stand-out moment was getting on the end of a kick to the square by Tom Hickey, taking his time and booting a memorable first AFL goal as his Saints’ team mates came from everywhere to celebrate.
“You could probably tell that was the highlight of the day for me – I’ve seen the footage a few times now and I smile every time I see it,” Pierce said.
“That was definitely a moment I’ll never forget for the rest of my life, that was an amazing feeling.”
From time in rehab, Pierce’s perspective has grown.
It’s not just gloom and dread over missing weeks on the sideline, but about improving the little things and keeping an eye on the bigger picture.
“I missed most of my second year due to my back and last year. There’s obviously a lot of hard work that’s done behind the scenes, especially as there’s no worse place than being in rehab,” Pierce said.
“I’d probably say you’ve got to look at the positives as much as you can.
“At the beginning when I had all my injuries I didn’t know how to deal with it as well so I struggled quite a lot of times
“But if I looked back and thought how I’d deal with it differently is to make sure I’m looking at the positives as much as I can and using it as an opportunity to improve other factors.
“Whether it’s strength, game knowledge or something like that, always finding short-term goals along the way.”
But those days are in his rear-view mirror as Pierce looks towards an upcoming golden age for St Kilda, with a litany of talented top draft picks and a gutsy side set to surge up the AFL ladder.
“I guess since I’ve been at the club we’ve been on an upwards trend, which is good,” Pierce said.
“Every year we’ve gotten better, stronger and got some really good players on the list at the moment.
“As a team we’re confident that we’ll be a contender in years to come and I guess there’s a really positive vibe around the club at the moment.
“Even not just on the playing field, but off field we’re doing a lot of positive things and I guess we’re on an upward trend which is the most satisfying thing to see.”