Early talk centres on the first gamers Dale Sheedy and Luke Edwards. Like many in the room Edwards has come through the Fitzroy Under 19s. Sheedy, on the other hand, has followed that well-worn trial up from the bush. The boys wish them luck and talk around the table quickly shifts to second gamer Matthew ‘Gator’ Gaite.
“Apparently he’s seven foot,” someone says.
“Seven one,” comes the reply.
“A giant among men.”
The discussion captures the interest of the room. In only in his third year of footy, Gator has made his way up into the ones. This time last year he was running around in the thirds.
It may have been the wine, it may have been the reflective mood of the room but it was hard to tell where truth ends and fiction begins. Whispers of a volleyball background abound. It is said that Gator grew up in the rugby heartland. He’d finally found his calling and made his way to proper footy.
Word goes around that Fitzroy has itself a genuine FIFO footballer. Just 12 hours prior, Gator had been in his hometown of Bellingen up in Northern NSW. Apparently, he’d risen at 2am, driven to the Gold Coast and met a flight bound for Brunswick Street. It’s a good thing he was picked in the ones as he wouldn’t have made the start of the reserves.
The Amateur Footballer was consulted and a few of the old boys shared a chuckle when they discovered he would be wearing – 120. Others just nodded knowingly, a big number for a big man.
The people were thirsty for more information. Questions were directed at Curly Hart, the youngest man in the room, who had played with Gator last year. Curly suggested Gator was most athletic person he had played alongside.
Talk moved to Gator’s Wayne Harmes moment in a thirds game last year. The sprayed kick of a teammate looked a certainty to end up out on the full. Gator refused to yield and instead sprinted full pelt in pursuit of the hopeless ball. Launching himself horizontal he managed to get a fingertip on ball millimetres from oblivion. Gator slapped the ball goalward and into the path of an oncoming teammate who ran into an open goal before falling to the ground coughing. He spluttered and retched before managing to spit something into his hand. A moment later, he stood and raised his arm to hold aloft the mouthguard that he had inadvertently swallowed. He quickly replaced the mouthguard before standing up back to the centre square to contest the next centre bounce.
The luncheon participants were suitably impressed and the legend of Gator continued to grow. Past players, old and young, speculated on his ability. He was said to have a decent leg and the ability to make the impossible look easy but was occasionally prone to dropping the simplest of marks. The reoccurring theme was that Fitzroy had found itself another man who has a dip.
An Engineer by trade, Gator is said to be a man who constructs buildings by day and leaps them by night. Today he would don the famous red, blue and yellow gurney and tread the same Brunswick Street turf as former Fitzroy rucking greats Albert Clay, Frank Curcio, Russell Crow and Alan Gale.
Gator went on to spend the game rotating through the ruck where he thrived on the contest, often using his height and reach to give the Fitzroy midfield first use of the ball. He also competed strongly around the ground and took some telling marks late in the game.
Originally published on footyalmanac.com.au on 20 May 2015.