When sporting people reach personal milestones, they are often asked to name the players that came before them that inspired their participation in the first place.
In football terms, the names Ross Glendinning, Maurice Rioli, Graham Moss and Chris Mainwaring are just a few of the names that regularly get mentioned.
Ballajura Football Club’s Michele (Michael) Priolo who at the age of 60 closes in on 400 games in the Perth Football League, says it was Albie Rosich who convinced him to first pull on the boots.
Albie never played in the VFL or AFL, nor in the WAFL for that matter. He was a 60-year-old friend who was still having fun running around the footy field trying to get a kick.
It was enough for then 26-year-old Michael to pull on a jumper for the first time in a long while.
“In the day, Albie inspired me. We’d have good old yarns; he loved playing footy,” Michael recalls.
“He asked me to go and play footy with him and I thought – why not? It started from there, and I’ve kept going.
“I like a bit of contact and the physical side keeps me fit. I have tried playing vets, but they hit just as hard as the young blokes, so I figure, what’s the difference?”
It took Michael some time to find his home at Ballajura. He couldn’t settle at his first club, Nollamara, nor his second, Dianella-Morley.
He headed to Ballajura just to train because he was coaching juniors at the club… then ended up playing again.
It actually took him a long time to realise that he loves football in the first place. Born in Kalgoorlie, where footy is pretty popular, Michael had a couple of goes at kick-starting a career, but on both occasions quickly determined it wasn’t for him – at that moment.
“I played a bit of hockey when I was younger, but I had a serious accident when a kid,” he said.
“I was impaled while messing around being a kid (at around 10 years old), doing what kids do.
“And being of European descent and an only son, I was wrapped up in cotton wool. That was one of the reasons I didn’t play much sport until later on – when I left home.”
But footy has now been a part of Michael’s life for more than 30 years.
As the Perth Football League celebrates its 100th year, he is being recognised as one of the oldest players still running around.
While he only needs a few more appearances to reach that 400-game milestone, that might have to wait until next year.
Michael now focusses more on coaching. Ballajura has five teams, including a women’s side and colts. He generally makes way on the field for younger players each week now, only filling in when needed.
“I enjoy playing footy still, but like to let the young ones go before me,” he said.
“I’ve coached from reserves down to thirds and was interim league coach for a while. I was the oldest bloke there and they needed one.
“I got my first premiership in reserves as a player-coach; then we won the premiership the year after, when I was just a player.
“There are guys that I coached in colts that are running around today that are 38 years old.
“One of the sons of a guy I used to play with years ago is 21 years old now and I played with my own son for a couple of years.
“Albie’s son, Lance, runs the boundary for me. He’s just turned 60.”
Michael’s playing days may be slowly coming to an end, but he plans to coach for as long as he is needed. His wife Vicki still doesn’t mind him getting out for a bit of exercise.
His work still provides the opportunity for him to remain active. Michael has his own business, manufacturing canvas goods; a lot for the rail and mining industries.
That, and an early appreciation for stretching, keeps his fitness levels up.
“I lift up 60–70kg rolls and that sort of stuff. It’s a physical job,” he said.
“I also used to play basketball and indoor volleyball and did some boxing and Muay Thai. They used to make us stretch like crazy and I have kept it up.
“Even when I am injured, I still have to go to work, so I have learned to deal with pain. After being impaled, I have learned to deal with it.”
The injuries have come too, including punctured lungs, cracked ribs, shoulders and his knees have been cleaned out a few times.
“There have been a few minor things along the way too.”