From Sydney’s liniment-soaked rugby league changerooms of yesteryear to Australian soccer’s biggest stage in Perth on Sunday, Liam Reddy will be exactly where he has always wanted to be.
Like he was at the Perth Glory forefront of an epic A-League semi-final win over Adelaide last Friday, Reddy will again be a hulking force in goals against Sydney in the grand final at Optus Stadium.
It will be the evergreen 37-year-old’s first grand final in a nearly 20-year senior career and not a moment he is prepared to waste.
“It’s been a long journey,” Reddy said bluntly. “I’ve just said to the younger players to really enjoy and embrace the week for what it is because we deserve to be here. These things don’t come around yearly and I feel very lucky to have the opportunity to win one this year.”
As Reddy prepares for the game of his life, he took The West Australian through a unique journey underpinned by the support of his family and his plans to settle in Perth when his playing days ended.
The nerves-of-steel son of St George great Rod Reddy spent his young life hovering around his father’s teams both here and abroad, steadily building his want and aptitude for a professional sporting existence.
But after growing up in the southern Sydney suburb of Sutherland and then Townsville in Queensland, it was at the age of six in 1987 when his father accepted a job to coach English rugby league club Barrow that a love for Liverpool and the round-ball game was born.
“I grew up around the St George Dragons change-room as a ball-boy in the team environment,” he said.
“I loved every minute of it and knew I wanted to be a professional sportsman, which I’m sure a lot of kids dream of being. But then everything was soccer over there (in England) … I played every afternoon and at recess and lunch.
“When we came back to Australia I played rugby league and soccer, but I just fell in love with football and it’s definitely been the right decision. I’ve been very fortunate in doing what I think is the best job in the world.”
Reddy’s brother Joel was also an NRL star with Parramatta, Wests Tigers and South Sydney, while his sister Bianca was a netballer who played for Perth’s West Coast Fever in 2010. He also shares the nickname “Rocket” with his father.
Now third-time lucky is the glorious formula he is banking on to deliver his football dreams and not even a double-dose of sporting disappointment this week has dented his grand final optimism.
Reddy could only watch on as Liverpool fell an agonising one point short of Manchester City in an epic league Trophy finale on Monday. Just hours later, an extraordinary buzzer-beating shot by Toronto Raptors star Kawhi Leonard banished his beloved Philadelphia 76ers from the NBA playoffs.
“Getting beaten like that is not ideal, but it just means that I can focus now all on this week’s grand final,” the 358-game veteran said.
Elite athletes do not stay at the top of their sport deep into their third decade of life by being the same as others – and Reddy is certainly different. The man who once had his Sydney contract terminated after getting drunk on a flight to New Zealand before an elimination final, now credits part of his longevity to his morning swim at City Beach, weekly yoga sessions, green tea and protein bars.
But the main ingredient in his fountain of youth is the support from his wife Christie and their three rocking sons Marley, 12, Hendrix, 10, and Ziggy, 5. As a tribute to that, the names of his boys are printed on his trusty game-day gloves.
“Christie is the taxi driver a lot of the time, but she’s wonderful and we all appreciate what she does and gives to our family,” he said.
“I’m very lucky to have a very supportive wife and family as it’s hard moving around a lot … Marley’s been to four different primary schools. We love living over here in Perth now, it’s a place where we love bringing the children up and it’s definitely a place where we can see ourselves settling after football.
”I think the kids keep me young.”
Reddy was just 18 years of age and in just his fourth senior game for the Parramatta Power in 2000, when he faced the goal-peppering might of former Glory stars Bobby Despotovski and Damian Mori in a game in Perth.
It was there that he also first felt the verbal wrath of the Glory supporters “Shed”, a group of club diehards who know love him as one of their own.
“They’ve always had that good chant and I love hearing it now for the opposing goal-keeper,” he laughed. “They’ve always been a loyal supporter group, even when I wasn’t at this football club, and well-known throughout the country. I hope they’ll be out in loud numbers on Sunday.”