Lindsay Thomas is one of the most exhilarating small forwards to have ever pulled on a North Melbourne jumper. Few have ever played with more heart and passion, however his enthusiasm for the game and the contest has occasionally put him in the spotlight for the right and wrong reasons.
But through it all he’s won multiple games for North off his own boot and developed into one of the most respected players inside the four walls of Arden Street.
This is his story as told by the key people around him and those who have watched him grow into a wonderful man and player over his brilliant 11 seasons.
After being drafted with the 53rd pick in the 2006 National Draft, Thomas joined a playing list which had a strong Indigenous representation.
Thomas moved in with Eddie Sansbury, who was able to steer Thomas through his early time in Melbourne.
Eddie Sansbury: For me it was about being there and supporting him away from footy. The biggest role for me to play was just being the older person there for him. When I got drafted there was Daniel Wells and Daniel Motlop, and we were the same age and we didn’t have that older Indigenous player to learn off and introduce us to the guys.
Daniel Wells: He was very shy when he first came in but he gravitated towards myself and Eddie (Sansbury) and Djaran Whyman. I think some people mistook that as arrogance because he wouldn’t look anyone in the eye and didn’t want any conflict.
Brent Harvey: My first impression of Lindsay was that he was very quiet and shy. Brady Rawlings used to tell me that he couldn’t get any conversation out of him. Lindsay would sit in Brady’s car the whole way to the club on his phone and Brady actually thought he was a little bit rude to start off with. But as you get to know him a bit better, you know that he was just being shy.
Over time Thomas’ shyness faded away as he grew more comfortable in himself and his new surroundings.
Wells: When he came to Melbourne he didn’t really have too many people around him that he knew. When he got around the boys he was always pretty relaxed but it took him a while to get used to us. We were really excited to have a young brother there and his shyness was something that over time went away.
Sansbury: Being from South Australia myself, we actually knew a lot of the same people. It made it a little bit easier for him when he first came over and then when he was staying with me, we could talk about the same sort of people we know. We were a tight bunch of players. We always had our weekly team lunches and that helped him as well.
Harvey: I got to know him pretty quickly and took a bit of a liking to him. He was obviously playing in a similar position to me so I could help him out a little bit there as well. We hit it off so it didn’t take us too long to find our feet as teammates as well as mates.
A new coach
Thomas quickly became a part of North’s best 22, playing every single game in his second season, followed by a further 19 in 2009.
At the end of the 2009 season, Brad Scott was appointed senior coach and he quickly came to love Thomas as a young man and for his passion for the game and jumper.
Brad Scott: We had to get a really good understanding of where Lindsay had come from, and I’d never met Lindsay before coming here. It was always going to be a relatively slow process of building a strong relationship. There was no point coming in and saying ‘Lindsay you must look me in the eye’ or ‘Lindsay you must be more outgoing’. I think that would have had a negative response. It was about showing him we had his best interests at heart and that we’d support him and work with him.
Wells: Brad backed him up a fair few times. When he first came in he saw the potential Lindsay had, not only as a player but as a young leader of the club. The first time I remember when Lindsay was having the trouble with his kicking, he’d become a sort of soft, easy target, when people would jump on him. Through all those times, he’s grown even stronger as a person. Even when Brad backed him up last year and got that huge fine, it goes to show how much he meant to him and he respected him. That shows great faith.
Beating the yips
2011 brought about the year most non-North people remember Thomas for, when he struggled mightily with his kicking for goal.
A total of 21 goals and 36 behinds for the season included some point-blank misses, and for a time it appeared the kicking woes could end Thomas’ AFL career.
Wells: At the start the players probably didn’t help as much because right at the start we didn’t realise how serious it was. Brad told us this is something we need to get around him for and help him out. Then it became a whole team thing when we wanted to get him right, and he did more work than anybody getting it done and getting it back on track to be a reliable shot on goal.
Scott: Lindsay for a long time, refused to acknowledge there was any mental component to it. He’s such a beautiful field kick – and he was still a beautiful field kick in 2011 – but he couldn’t hit the side of a barn from 20 metres out. It took him a little while to acknowledge that it was a mental problem and not a technical problem.
The work Thomas was able to put in between the 2011 and 2012 seasons quickly turned his goal kicking around.
From 21.36 in 2011, Thomas kicked 38.19 in 2012, 53.23 in 2013 and 45.23 in 2014.
Scott: Once he acknowledged that he went to work. We were really consistent in saying that if he put the work in on the mental and technical skills that it would turn. We all had faith in that, and we were justified in that.
Harvey: It’s a credit to him that even after having the yips for almost a full season, he was able to reverse it the following season. People just thought ‘he’s out of the yips.’ It doesn’t just happen like that. You’ve got to work and he worked bloody hard with Brett Allison who was our forwards coach at the time. A lot of people wouldn’t have seen that work. I reckon he was having 200 shots on goal at training during the week and it turned around for him over the next pre-season.
A flawed perception
Just when it appeared Thomas was out of the public eye, he was dragged back into it.
Despite winning far fewer free kicks for high contact than a number of other players, Thomas was strangely made the poster boy for 'ducking'.
Scott: He thought there was a level of injustice in that. My counsel was that sometimes life isn’t fair, and people will have a certain view. He just needed to make sure that he was listening to the people that mattered most to him. He just needed to keep attacking the ball with ferocity. If he did that and in evading the tackle the opposition went high, that’s their problem and not his.
Harvey: Is he a ducker? No. Does he play to the rules? Yes. He got wrongly accused for being that poster boy. I think it affected him initially, but once he dissected it all he just says, 'it doesn’t bother me too much'. We had a lot of chats about that, and I told him, ‘if you’re having shots on goal, just keep doing what you’re doing.’
It seemed that anywhere Thomas turned, he was the centre of attention, arguably wrongly so.
After coming through the other side of his kicking yips, he had to deal with being made a public enemy of sorts; an easy target.
His family; wife Hannah and his two daughters, have provided invaluable support.
A family man
Wells: She’s been an absolute rock for him. She’s a beautiful girl who’s supported him and they’ve been an unbelievable team. They’ve ridden the waves together, the highs and lows. I dare say without her, I don’t think Lindsay would have got through these really tough times. She’s been absolutely amazing and a beautiful mother to their two girls. He’s been blessed to have someone like her to help him.
Harvey: I don’t think he would have survived without Hannah. She’s been fantastic and then the children have come along. I think because he’s so shy and family-oriented, having a partner to live with him in Melbourne and a couple of other Indigenous boys really helped. She’s been a pillar of strength for Lindsay.
Sansbury: They met a couple of months before they came over. It was a funny story actually, because when she first came over, she was only coming over to visit for two weeks. But those two weeks ended up being forever and now he has a great family.
Scott: Hannah’s been one of the main constants in his life and she’s been absolutely fantastic for him. She’s gone through some tough times as well, because you don’t go through those things in isolation. Your whole family experiences it. If she’d wavered I suspect Lindsay would have too. He’s a terrific father, a shining example to all young kids of what you can make not only of your career but your life. I don’t think he would have got through those periods without Hannah and the kids.
From a shy teenager moving to Melbourne to start his AFL career, to a veteran who’s overcome tough times to thrive as one of North’s leading goal kickers.
The soon-to-be 200 gamer has had to possesses incredible mental strength to survive the trials and tribulations of AFL football.
Harvey: At the start in his first year, if you had told me all that was going to happen, I would have thought it’s going to break him. But clearly it hasn’t and it’s made him stronger. He bleeds for our footy club and he loves this footy club. To play 200 games is a massive milestone and I’m very proud to say I played with him for so long and helped him even just a little bit.
Wells: You see what he is today, he’s an absolute star at North with everything he’s done there. He’s definitely an asset to North Melbourne, not only on field but off field he’s just as important.
Scott: He’s a very determined and proud person. Those two traits really held him in good stead because if he was a lesser person of lesser character he wouldn’t have come through that. There have been plenty of people in plenty of sports who have had one of those particular issues and not been able to respond and see it through. We hold Lindsay in really high regard but his mental toughness and resilience is really impressive.
Leaving a legacy
When Thomas takes the field on Friday afternoon, he’ll become just the second Indigenous player to play 200 games for North.
In a rich history of Indigenous players at the club, Thomas stands with the very best of them.
Wells: He’s probably been one of the most important Indigenous players the club has had; he’s brought so much to the club. His importance will go down in history, and people probably don’t know that unless you’re part of the circles but he’s had a huge influence on the Indigenous part of North.
Harvey: He’s a great fella and you can see how far he’s come. Speaking at the best and fairest, the academy things he does and how passionate he is about it – that’s when you start finding out a little bit more about the real Lindsay Thomas.
Sansbury: I’m proud to have played some small part in watching him achieve that. It’s a massive effort and he’s come a long way from his first couple of years at the footy club.
Scott: We’ve got a great legacy of Indigenous players and Lindsay will be spoken about in the same sentence as the very best of them. Jy Simpkin, Jed Anderson, Paul Ahern, they all already hold him in high regard and they’ll be talking to the next Indigenous players that come through our footy club, telling them about what Lindsay Thomas was like.”
Wells: The first thing the boys asked me when I went to the Pies was, ‘what’s Lindsay like?’ I told them he’s a player you’d all love and he’s all about the club, all about the team and he’s a great guy.
Harvey: We look back and see Barry Cable, the Krakouer brothers, Daniel Wells, Winston Abraham, Byron Pickett – we’ve had some great Indigenous players. He’s going to leave a legacy of his own. Not only for his performances on the field but the legacy he’s going to leave with the Huddle. I think once he finishes football there’ll be a job opportunity there if he wanted to take it. In the first year he was here, if you’d told me Lindsay is going to go do all this, I would have thought you’ve got the wrong bloke.
Scott: I’ve seen him first hand in his mentoring role with young kids and it’s a shame that he doesn’t get due recognition and exposure for all of the stuff that he does off field, but he doesn’t do it for that reason. We know internally all the work he does and the quality person he is.
Wells: It’s been an absolute privilege. To see him when he first came in, and how shy he was, didn’t say boo. Now he’s a bit of a larrikin at the club. Everyone who’s had any kind of dealings with Lindsay, and I’ve been lucky enough to be right amongst him throughout his whole career – I’m disappointed I don’t get to play with him – they’ve realised he’s a special guy.
For those who saw Thomas when he first arrived at the club, it would have been hard to believe that a decade later, the same man would be mentoring young Kangaroos.
But for Jy Simpkin, that’s exactly what’s happened. The first-year Roo has already learned invaluable lessons from Thomas in his short time at Arden Street.
Jy Simpkin: I knew he was a gun, I’d known Sam Wright for a while and he’d always talk about how good Lindsay was. On my first day Lindsay came up to me, introduced himself and shook my hand. As training went on, he’s helped me more than anyone. He took me under his wing straight away and helped me with all the things like game plans, the tricks and tips on how to improve. It’s very reassuring with him there, and knowing that he’ll be able to tell me what to do on the field. It’s a big week for him. He’s ready to go so he’ll put on a show.