What it s like being dad to a Freo hero
Matthew Pavlich takes a dip with the Dockers in Adelaide. Picture: Lincoln Baker, The West Australian

With every kick, mark and handpass over the past 13 years, Fremantle captain Matthew Pavlich has erased a little piece of the heartache his family feels at losing him to an interstate footy club.

The AFL is now a truly national competition which drags teenage boys from all parts of Australia to chase their sporting dreams. Their families look on from afar as they grow into men.

Tonight in Pavlich's home State of South Australia, his parents Steve and Jan and sister Jessica will be at AAMI Stadium to see if their hero can lead the Dockers closer to the promised land of a premiership.

To do it, Fremantle must conquer Adelaide, the love of Pavlich's childhood.

In a rare interview yesterday, Steve Pavlich, a former star with SANFL club Woodville West Torrens, said he sometimes rued missing out on parts of his son's teenage life.

But Pavlich's career, which at 278 games is more than any Fremantle or West Coast player, has delivered his family a pride they will treasure for life.

His father admitted there were tears of sadness as well as joy after Fremantle took his son with pick No. 4 in the 1999 draft.

"It was a big build-up and then, 'Oh my God, he's off to the Dockers and they're not going very well'," he said. "Then suddenly it was all deathly quiet and back to normal the next day.

"But it was not like he was joining the military and was going to be sent off to Iraq. It was what he wanted to do and we were all supportive."

At that point, Pavlich had not even visited Perth. Now he is one of the most recognisable people in WA.

Despite the excitement of following his son's elite football career, Pavlich Sr said it sometimes felt like the family had missed out on a more normal life.

"There are four of us and we're very close-knit," he said.

"Matthew is very close to his sister and very protective of her - she's four years younger. It's those years of their development when they're away that you miss and those things that sons and dads get together to do.

"Going to the footy, going out, even just moving house, you'd be there for them. But the fact that he made it into the AFL and into a team is terrific - it's what he was dreaming about doing.

"Once you get over the initial feeling that he has left the family one short, you get used to it.

"You just get so pleased that they are doing what they want."

If former Adelaide coach Neil Craig had got his way, Pavlich might never have left his home city. Pavlich Sr said part of him had hoped his son would accept an offer to join the Crows.

But he never pushed and is fiercely proud of his son's loyalty to a club he says has repaid him with great support.

Pavlich Sr laughs when he admits he became "Matthew Pavlich's dad" rather than Matthew being "Steve Pavlich's son" after his boy had been at Fremantle a few seasons.

"I was coming back from Adelaide Airport after an interstate meeting in about 2003 and a taxi driver said he knew who I was because I was a spitting image of Matthew," he said. "But that doesn't bother me at all."

When he is sitting in the stands watching his son calmly kick great goals like his sixth on Saturday, he says his main emotion is relief.

The only similarities he sees between them is the assessment from other people that they have the same running gait.

More than a decade after Matthew left, his father sees little difference between the child he raised and the man who has become Fremantle's greatest player.

"He's still very loyal to his friends, he loves his family," he said.

"He hasn't changed at all, which is great. He's obviously matured into a man now, but his behaviours are still the same.

"We are through-and-through Dockers with purple and white blood and we just want the side to do well. But there is always tremendous pressure on him to do everything right all the time.

"We get the joy of being supporters, but I think we play every minute of the game with him. It's been a terrific ride, fantastic, and we've been very lucky that he's always made us part of what he's done."

The West Australian

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