By JEFF STEPHENSON
THERE’S a famous Bryce Courtenay novel called Tommo and Hawk which tells in graphic detail an engaging story about twins who need to learn each other’s strengths and weaknesses in order to survive.
Nice story it is too, but there’s a better, more recent one, about a couple of likely lads at Redland Bombers – not twins – but “Bleed Red brothers” – who have travelled a remarkable journey themselves and this Saturday at Scottsdale Park will celebrate milestones of which both will be immensely proud.
Yes, it’s Thommo and Tiny, the Bombers’ odd couple, who will occupy the NEAFL limelight on centre stage against the defending premier Southport.
Thommo is Matt Thomson about to become the newest member of Redland’s 200 Club.
Tiny is Craig Malone, arguably the NEAFL’s number one ranked ruckman and he’ll be lining up for game 100.
The two of them are local products – Matt’s a graduate of the Redland juniors and Craig started his career with Alexandra Hills – and both have given the Bombers’ outstanding service, great loyalty and have overcome obstacles that might have driven lesser-committed players from the game.
Take Matt, for starters.
This will be only his second game for the season after suffering an horrendous illness, picked up following a European trip earlier this year and which developed into the influenza B virus.
When blood clots were identified on his lungs it was immediate hospitalisation and it took huge character and determination to then go through repatriation and recovery all the while aiming to win his place back in the Redland Bombers team.
He couldn’t commit to body contact sessions at training until midway through May, but never did he take his eyes off the big picture
The ankle injury he sustained on his return is hardly worth mentioning by means of comparison.
It was just another setback.
“Yeah, there were a few roadblocks,” Thommo said with just the slightest hint of understatement.
He agrees the agony and suffering has been well worth it because he’s back playing the game that has been part of his life since he was five.
He played his first senior match at 15 as a 60kg lightweight playing against much bigger and meaner opponents.
Never once was he discouraged.
“Nah, I was always a bit of a smartarse back then and thought I was pretty good.
“When you’re young like that you back yourself in and there’s never any fear of getting hurt or anything like that.
“When you get older, well, you try to play a bit smarter.”
Club stalwart Neil Proud, who has seen Thommo run around almost from the outset, said that as a kid Thommo always knew how to look after himself.
“Matt used to look after the younger kids in the juniors.,” Neil said. “He was so good to the younger boys.
“When he went into the senior grade, we were getting bashed up by the bigger-bodied teams who took it out on us, but Matt always looked after himself.
“He didn’t need looking after.”
Neil remembers the Queensland State 16s coach Neville Miller admitting to him he loved the way Matt played the game.
“I can also remember talking to his father when we were thinking he might be a draft prospect.
“I said at the time that if it doesn’t happen then it’s no disgrace if Matt becomes a 200-gamer with Redland.
“That’s how I saw him then and now it’s going to happen. He’s been such a loyal lad and this is a big tribute to him”
Thommo himself, reckons the ride will continue if good fortune in terms of injury start going his way once more.
“I’ll keep playing until I’m no longer up to the standard or I physically can’t compete anymore.
“I’m thinking I’d like to use this year as a platform and have a proper crack again next year.
“Seriously, I’d like to play for another five years.”
He’s already accumulated 138 NEAFL matches thus far, with the other 62 being recorded when the Bombers played in the QAFL.
Now, turning our attention to Craig – who, from this point – will be referred to as Tiny.
At 198cm tall he’s not very tiny at all and weighing in at 115kgs he’s an imposing figure on the field.
Through sheer hard work and a desire, almost bordering on fanaticism, Tiny has lifted his game to a whole new level these last few years.
Don’t believe me? Well, how about this for a pertinent point.
The NEAFL MVP award was locked from the public two weeks ago.
The standings at that point – the end of Round 12 – saw Craig Malone of Redland sitting in sixth position on the table, with nary another ruckman within cooee of him.
He holds the record for most hit outs in NEAFL history and this year registered 71 in a match against Sydney University and generally averages between 50 and 60 a match, which is a power of work in anyone’s book.
Tiny has always said he loves learning on the job.
“The more you play, the more you learn.”
Like Thommo, he’s been plagued by injury with a fibula injury in 2014 wrecking his season and an ankle injury suffered at training in 2017 forcing him to miss the second half of that season.
Cruel blows indeed, but Tiny has never shirked the issue and his rehabilitation and attitude on both occasions are testament to his courage and devotion to the game.
The High School teacher has had plenty on his plate other than football as he has thrown himself into his teaching role as well as plan his attack on the likes of Jake Spencer, Darcy Cameron, Jed Turner and Co.
That he has succeeded so remarkably well is further proof of his attitude and strength of character.
The best feature of his play in recent seasons is – as he puts it – his strong attack on the ball outside the ruck contests.
Now 26, Tiny says he has learned plenty from playing against the best the NEAFL has to offer and he continues to learn something new just about every time he steps out.
“I just go out there and do my best and yes, I do pick up plenty of pointers along the way.
“I’ve always wanted to play against the top guys for as long as I can.
“I’m very excited to play my 100th game alongside a veteran like Thommo. It should be an exciting day in front of a home crowd.
“It’s been a long time coming, but I’m very happy to join the prestigious group of 100-gamers.”
It was stated earlier that Thommo and Tiny are the “odd couple” in terms of them reaching their respective milestones.
We don’t really want them to be known as being “odd” in a sense of being strange, but moreso in their respective physiques as you’ll see for yourselves when they run out on Saturday to the acclimation of their teammates and supporters alike.
Yep, the 198cm colossus and the 177cm dynamo.
They are two of the Bombers’ greats and well deserving of the plaudits that flow their way.
GO BOMBERS AND DEFINITELY GO THOMMO AND GO TINY.