The name ‘Doedee’ is of Dutch origins and means ‘emotional, entertainer, strong’. And Tom Doedee, the Brisbane Lions’ prized off-season signing, is overloaded with all three characteristics.
Picked up as a restricted free agent after 82 games over six years with the Adelaide Crows, and signed on a four-year contract that earned the Crows and end-of-first-round compensation pick, the 26-year-old will quickly win the hearts of Lions fans as a team-first intercept defender.
He’s an athletic 188cm former junior basketball international who plays football like it should be played. And in an era in which so much offence starts from defence he is a veritable weapon.
But it is more the other parts of his name’s meaning that define the man whose name is pronounced ‘Doo-day’.
He is strong and emotional for reasons largely unrelated to football, as he explained in detail in a story written by Courtney Walsh for Code Sport in June last year headlined “Why Adelaide Crows defender Tom Doedee is destined to make a difference”.
It tells the story of three people who had been a profound influence on the third son of Steve and Cheryl, a younger brother to Harley and Jack who grew up in Geelong.
In his days at kindergarten the Doedee family befriended a young boy named Jake who was born with congenital myotonic dystrophy. He could not walk or talk, and had trouble using his hands, but was a regular visitor to the Doedee home. He died at 13 but, as Doedee admitted, only after he had ‘shaped his approach to life’.
Tom, still in his early teens, was away at a basketball tournament when he and brother Jack were told by their parents that brother Harley had broken his leg and smashed his knee cap in a driving lesson. Only later did they learn that in fact the situation was much worse. He was 100 days in intensive care, his lungs collapsed six times, and he could not breath on his own.
After he underwent initial surgery to amputate his left foot subsequent surgery removed the limb below the knee. Later, after the continued spread of bacteria, he had his right leg amputated from the top of his shin. But with a tattoo on his arm which says ‘Life Goes On’ he lives happily in the United States with partner Kate.
The third person who has had a profound impact on Doedee’s approach to life is Maggie, the younger sister of his long-time partner Emily who was born with Down Syndrome and Alopecia.
“She (Maggie) is the most incredible human ever in terms of her ability to bring light to every room,” he said. “She came into my life when I was about 16 and I am just extremely grateful. To herself, she is the greatest thing in the world. It is not an arrogance thing. Maggie is a reminder regularly that you can be positive. She is always reminding us that we are not just lucky to have her in our life, we are lucky to be who we are.”
So the fact that Doedee will move to Brisbane partway through his rehabilitation from a second knee reconstruction is barely more than a minor speed bump in the AFL career of a player who had never picked up a Sherrin until the age of 16.
It’s a career that was born midway through 2015 when Doedee received a surprise text message from Adelaide recruiting boss Hamish Ogilvie. “I was sitting in class at school and I had my phone in my pencil case. I received a text message and opened it up and sure enough it was Hamish (Ogilvie).
“He said, ‘Hi mate, we’d like to come down for an interview sometime this week.’ It was after I’d played a few TAC Cup games, so that kick-started things with the Crows.”
A few months later he was the bombshell selection in the 2015 AFL National Draft after he was tipped to go “about 45” in the draft by AFL website draft guru Cal Twomey, and somewhere between 30-40 by Geelong Falcons talent manager Mick Turner.
The Crows shocked the football world when they took the largely unknown basketball convert at #17, prompting the Adelaide Advertiser the following day to publish a story which started ‘Who is Adelaide’s first-round draft pick?’ before quoting Turner as saying “he’s the best one-on-one defender in the TAC Cup (Under 18 competition)”.
It was a draft in which the Lions have had a big involvement, with nine players from the top 47 wearing Lions colors.
The Lions themselves drafted Josh Schache (#2), Eric Hipwood (#14), Ben Keays (#24), Rhys Mathieson (#39) and Sam Skinner (#47), and have subsequently recruited Callum AhChee (#8), Doedee (#17), Josh Dunkley (#25) and Marcus Adams (#35).
After a meteoric two-year rise from nothing to the first round of the AFL draft Doedee’s football journey halted just as quickly. Still finding his way, he spent two years playing in the SANFL, and it wasn’t until Round 1 2018 that he made his AFL debut.
He had 21 possessions (eight contested) and nine one-percenters in a two-goal loss at Marvel Stadium to an Essendon side which included Joe Daniher and Conor McKenna on the same day Cam Rayner made his debut with the Lions and Luke Hodge and Charlie Cameron wore Brisbane colors for the first time.
In his second game Doedee had 25 possessions (14 contested) in a six-goal win over Richmond at Adelaide Oval to win a Rising Star nomination, and at the end of the season he polled 42 votes in the overall Rising Star voting to finish second behind Collingwood’s Jaidyn Stephenson (52) and ahead of Brisbane’s Alex Witherden (32). Rayner (7) was seventh.
Suddenly the hype was starting to make sense. Even more so when, in his 27th game and just his sixth game back from a left knee reconstruction, Doedee captained the Crows in the absence of first-choice skipper Rory Sloane.
It was Round 7 in the Covid season of 2020. He was 141 days beyond his 23rd birthday and preferred by coach Matthew Nicks to vastly more experienced leadership group members Brodie Smith and Matt Crouch. Only six members of the side were younger.
Perspective? Among 14 players appointed Brisbane captain 13 were aged 25 or older. Only Michael Voss, already a Brownlow Medallist, was younger. And he was only seven months younger.
It was no one-game thing. Doedee skippered the Crows that season whenever he was playing and Sloane was not playing, and was widely expected to be the club’s next full-time captain.
It didn’t happen. At the start of the 2023 season ex-Swans midfielder Jordan Dawson was given the top job over Doedee and Smith, who had been part of the leadership group since 2020.
Still, Doedee won lavish praise from Crows insiders for his support of the new skipper until Round 12 against Gold Coast in Darwin, when he tore the ACL in his right knee.
Said Crows high performance manager Darren Burgess at the time: “What we know of Tom is he is of high character and the utmost professional, and having been through this process once before, knows what it takes to get back to playing at the highest level."
Two days later Doedee rang brother Harley in Portland, Oregon, and unwittingly drew strength from the double amputee. After all, he said, he would be able to walk into surgery and walk out of his surgery while his brother is in the wheelchair for the rest of his life.”
What Burgess didn’t know at the time was that Doedee’s 82nd game for Adelaide would be his last, and that in 2024 he’ll effectively replace concussion retiree Marcus Adams on the Brisbane list.
Year-by-year Doedee played 20-1-9-21-20-11 games in the #39 Crows jumper, finishing top 10 in the best & fairest in each of his three 20-game seasons – he was 6th in 2018, 4th in 2021 and 7th in 2022.
The move to Brisbane is not a big one in terms of distance for Doedee, who has travelled extensively through the United States and is a massive NFL fan after an earlier fixation with college basketball.
He recounts how his father Steve was a Boston Celtics and Pittsburgh Steelers fan. At home the ‘Dream Team’ documentary played on regular rotation at home, and he collected basketball cards with a passion.
So focussed was the ever-competitive point guard on pursuing a basketball career in the States that he based his secondary school studies around sitting the SATs, the education staple for every American team with college aspirations.
“Pretty much, since I was 11 or 12, I was introduced to college basketball and I was hooked. That was all I wanted to do,” he said last year. “That was the dream, to get to America, get to college, live there for four years and try to live my very best life. I was that much into it that I knew exactly what I needed to do.
“I have been to 12 or 13 states now, been to the big dogs in California and New York, the big colleges, but I have also been to Ohio and been down to Nashville, things like that, so I would honestly have been happy to go anywhere.
“It wasn‘t until I was 16, when I picked up footy, that I realised there was an alternative to life, that I might be able to do something else.”
His NFL passion was sparked by a visit to Caesars Palace Casino in Las Vegas, where he was struck by dozens of mannequins featuring the helmets and jerseys of every NFL side, spurred a new passion.
“I remember being blown away by how cool that was and by all of the stories about the NFL which were on the TV,” he said.
He has been to Pasadena to watch a Rose Bowl with his dad, watched the Green Bay Packers play the Trojans, caught games at The Coliseum in LA, headed to Ohio to watch the Buckeyes, knocked off the big stadiums in New York and Boston and even headed to the Red River Showdown to watch Oklahoma play against Texas.
“I followed both (the NBA and NFL) for a bit but once I started playing football, I moved away from basketball and quit playing it altogether in 2018.
“But I‘m still full on with the NFL. On Monday mornings, I’ll get up at 3am and 4am in the morning and watch it all the way through.”
He’s also a massive movie buff, and rather than talking of mindfulness and meditation to help his football he prefer sitting in a movie for two hours.
But he’s not a big football watcher. “I don’t love watching a lot of footy,” the defender says. “Friday Night Footy will be on, and I might be watching a movie. Sometimes I’ll stick around the club after training to watch footage of the forwards I’ll play against. When I’m there, I’m entirely invested and I will do what’s best for the team and my career – but outside of the club, I’m trying to avoid sitting and thinking about footy as much as I can.”