By JEFF STEPHENSON
AS THE train pulls into the Scottsdale Park station, much-loved Redland midfielder Tom Salter has collected his gear and stepped on to the platform called retirement, ending an illustrious career that has seen him ranked among the greats – not just of the Redland Bombers – but of the NEAFL.
After struggling to regain full fitness following a knee injury which saw him miss the 2017 season, Salts announced to his teammates last night the match this Saturday against Canberra Demons will be the last time he runs on to the field as a Bombers player.
He joins his great mate and coach Phil Carse as “retirees” and that each of them will share centre stage one last time will be a fitting and memorable celebration of two of the club’s great players.
In true Salter fashion, the 29-year-old said he felt “a bit embarrassed” to be announcing his retirement at the same time as Phil’s.
“I didn’t want to be sort of taking the limelight.
“It’s a bit sad but the body has just given up. I’d been tossing it up for several weeks and I was a bit hesitant about saying something.
“But with Carsey retiring too I can be his little sidekick on the day.
“He can be Batman to my Robin – we might even see if we can get the Batmobile to the game.”
And that, dear friends, sums up the character of this most noble of players – footballer first – but also clubman, teammate, buddy, always thinking of others, not totally accepting of the limelight.
It’s why he’s universally regarded in the playing group as more than a teammate – he’s got that intangibility about him – it’s special and not everyone is able to attain such heights.
It engenders a bond and weaves all who have played with him; have coached him; have shared the highs and the lows with him; into the fabric of sportsmanship, fate and good fortune.
They will, you see, never forget him.
They will say they were thrilled to have stepped on to the football field with him and shared just as many good times off it over a journey that has been both special and fulfilling.
Phil is appreciative he’ll be sharing the moment with his mate.
“Salts was always the consummate professional with his football, winning our time trials across the summer months and spending the extra time on the track to hone his skills to be the best he could be,” he said.
“As a result, he was so highly regarded by his teammates.
“He would regularly win 30-plus possessions week in – week out on what we refer to now as the Tommy Salter wing, but the unique thing about Tom as a wingman was that he was not just an outside player, he was as fierce as they came when it was his turn to attack the ball or the opposition and brought a hard, ruthless edge to the team.
“As great football teams do, they bring a sense of brotherhood and I’ve got a lifelong friend in Salts.
“He was a groomsman at my wedding, and I couldn’t think of a better bloke and player to share my final game with as we pass the baton to the next generation of up and coming Redland players.”
Football Operations Manager, Marty King declared Tom “a much-treasured asset for the footy club since arriving in 2009.
“His training, preparation and work ethic have set present and future standards for the club.
“He has left no stone unturned to get the best out of himself every time he donned the Bomber jumper.”
So, with Saturday’s match his 166th and last, let’s look at some of the reasons why we are being so effusive in our commentary towards Thomas Salter.
He has captained the club, won the 2011 Dowling Medal for Redland best and fairest (he was runner-up in 2012-13) and added the Grogan Medal for NEAFL best and fairest in 2012 as well as having his name enshrined as a Bombers’ Hall of Famer in 2014.
Salts arrived at the club from Tasmania in 2009 on a two-year contract and when homesickness set in, he was set to return to the Apple Isle after one of those years had elapsed.
It took some earnest words of encouragement from team manager Craig “Funky” Miller to talk him out of it and Salts is truly glad he did as he says he was never going to return home once he settled into stride the following year.
“I’ve enjoyed every bit of my time here,” he said.
(Well, maybe not all the time. That seemingly harmless kick-to-kick session the day before the 2017 pre-season was due to start, when he was supremely fit, but when he landed awkwardly resulting in a knee reconstruction, was not the most pleasant of times).
But, as we knew he would, he prevailed.
He almost made it back towards the end of that season, but disappointingly ran out of time.
Salts considers himself fortunate to have arrived at Scottsdale Park just as the Bombers were starting to flourish.
“The first year I got here we did well, and we had a four or five-year period where, while we didn’t dominate, we were more than competitive always playing in finals.
“I think my biggest heartbreak was the qualifying final in 2012 when Southport beat us with a goal after the siren.
“I can still remember the ball going over my head on the rebound and turning to see one of their players take the mark. That was one that got away.
“Then 2014 could’ve gone our way too but didn’t when Aspley beat us in a semi-final, and they went on to win the chocolates.”
“The thing about that time too was that blokes were being drafted every year.
“It was a good time.”
Not that he’s giving up on the club he has served so well as he predicts the Bombers will be back in the hunt for finals as early as next year considering the “great young blokes we have coming through”.
“With Carsey full-time and the group we have now finals will be well within reach next year.”
Salts, now involved heavily in small business, will not be lost to Redland.
Far from it.
Why, he reckons he might even have the perfect match-day role.
“Sure, I’ll be around the place – no doubt.
“Maybe I could be the mascot – that’d do.”
GO SALTS – GO CARSEY – GO BOMBERS