Nicky Winmar’s AFL Hall of Fame induction has confirmed what fans probably already knew; the retired St Kilda star is an Australian football legend.

While adulated for a career that began at South Fremantle in 1983 and finished at Western Bulldogs in 1999 – either side of 230 games at the Saints – the Noongar man’s motivation was revealed to have never been for a coach.

The phone calls Winmar shared with his father from Melbourne to the tiny West Australian wheatbelt town of Pingelly between matches were sometimes brutal.

“Every time I played a bad game, my old man would not speak to me for a week,” he told saints.com.au.

“I’d ring mum and she’d say, ‘he doesn’t want to talk to you. You know why, you let him down and played a bad game’.

“He used to listen (to the radio) and watch (on TV) all the time.

“Then he’d get on the phone before the next game, and he’d give me a serve.

“He knew footy. He didn’t care if I broke even with someone, but he didn’t like me losing, even when I played on a tougher opponent or was tagged heavily.”

That accurate precision of Winmar, ensuring every pass seemingly hit the chest of a leading Tony Lockett, can be attributed to the man he shares the same first name.

Neil Winmar Senior was as hard as every one of those drop punts.

“The weekly phone call drove me as much as anything, but it started when I was 14 working in the shearing sheds with him,” Winmar said of his father.

“He’d make the boss stop the truck five kilometres from home and make me run the rest of the way after a hard day of shearing.

“I’d ask him, ‘what’s all this for’ and he’d say, ‘you’ll find out’.

“He saw a gift in me with my footy.”

The tough love only made the time one decade after debuting in front of the Moorabbin faithful, even tougher.

St Kilda’s return to grand finals to vie for its second premiership in 93 years was lost on Winmar when he found out his mentor was gravelly ill and losing the will to watch his son play one last time.

As it turned out, the battle to live on was lost the night before the biggest match of an already decorated career.

It has taken until the AFL’s announcement that Winmar would enter the Hall of Fame for hom to open up publicly about death of his beloved dad.

That heartbreaking Friday night also just happened to coincide with the tragic death of close teammate Stewart Loewe’s sister in a car accident.

It appeared to greatly affect the skilled half-forward flanker’s output against Adelaide.

Winmar collected just 13 disposals, a mark and a goal as his mind wandered in the skies.

“I spoke to him two days before that and I told mum, ‘no matter what happens, don’t ring me before the grand final’,” he said.

“So, what did she do? She called me. We lost dad and I felt very bad that I wasn’t there.

“I didn’t know what to do, but I just wish the call was made after the grand final rather than before.”

While his recollection of the 1997 AFL decider was understandably murky, the 56-year-old vividly recalls his anticipation heading into the big time a decade earlier.

Winmar was one of the last players recruited from outside of Victoria not to be picked from the national draft.

Legendary Essendon coach Kevin Sheedy was looking at prising the first of his many Aboriginal recruits that would transform the Bombers before securing Michael Long and Derek Kickett until the future Saints champion signed

The Nicky Winmar statue in Perth. Photo provided by the AFL.

West Coast meanwhile never confirmed the story that Winmar was passed over for the club’s inaugural 35-player squad when the Eagles joined the competition

“I was a bit scared and a bit nervous at the start,” Winmar said.

“I came over here having watched The Winners on TV, and guys like Leigh Matthews would knock a few blokes over.

“They were strong boys. We used to watch and think, ‘Whoa!’ We were all skinny kids and our development time hadn’t come.”

The muscles came soon after hitting the gym and that impressive physique was on show as Winmar took his famed stand against racism that memorable day in 1993.

After St Kilda’s first – and last – victory at Victoria Park in 17 years over Collingwood, he did not hesitate to raise his jumper and point to his chest against the slurs from the unremorseful Magpies supporters.

The almost reclusive Winmar was thrown into the national limelight when that image was captured from a snap of a newspaper photographer.

Uncomfortable with the public attention, it wasn’t until Long decided to stand up to the verbal abuse two years later, this time from star Collingwood ruckman Damian Monkhorst, did speaking up against racism resonate with Winmar.

“I knew I had support, but what happened to Michael made us stronger,” he said.

Rather than shy away from people in the game, Winmar now embraces the moment that can include by the latest honour.

“I had so much joy playing footy,” Winmar said.

“To everyone who was part of my life – that’s the coaches, teammates, friends, and supporters, thanks for being there.”

  • Story by Andrew Mathieson