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Salem’s respect for footy’s dark arts

Seal Media Group, Australia

Salem was 14 years old when his appreciation for football’s dark arts was first fostered.He had just cracked the Brighton Grammar team when coach Robert Shaw gave out the toughest school assignment.Watch every 2021 Toyota AFL Finals Series match before Grand Final. Live & Ad-Break Free on Kayo. New to Kayo? Try 14-days free >“I was in Year 9 and he made me go and follow Buggy (Tom Bugg) and Dyl Shiel,” Salem said.“They were Year 12 boys … it didn’t go too well for me.“One of them (Bugg) kicked four.”Salem also likes to look the part when he plays.From bleached hair to white boots, it adds to the perception that he is Melbourne’s money man with the Sherrin.Perhaps then it was of little surprise that tagging was a skillset he struck out at.In Joondalup, Salem has sourced a Dees masseuse who is crafty with the clippers to take care of his hair before Friday night’s preliminary final against Geelong.But Salem’s well-known sense of style has become exploited in quarantine, with a queue of teammates requesting trims.“It’s actually pretty taxing being a hairdresser, I tell you,” Salem said.“I try and go pretty quick but they always ask for a little bit more – a touch up here, a touch up there.“To be on your feet like that … bit of respect.“So I’ll try to hand it on to Marty Hore and hopefully he’ll embrace it and take it on, because it’s bloody hard work.”Salem’s tagging time came full circle well and truly before he wound up his salon.Plenty of coaches have attempted to clamp down on Salem’s clever kicking, be it for a quarter here or a half there.Salem said this season it was happening more and more.In Round 3 it was schoolmate Josh Kelly (Greater Western Sydney) shadowing Salem.Rewind to 2013 and Kelly and Salem were the bee’s knees boys from Brighton who were impossible to stop.Salem spent every year of his schooling at Brighton Grammar and grew up watching older brothers Andre and James play for Old Brighton in the VAFA.All he ever wanted was to win a premiership with his schoolmates.“It’s probably not a good thing, but there were times where I didn’t really want to get picked for state to be able to play school footy,” Salem said.“Looking back now it’s pretty funny, but at the time it could’ve been borderline stupidity.“That’s how much I was into my school footy and I always wanted to win a premiership with them.“Me, Josh Kelly and some other boys got called up to state when we were playing the bottom team – but we drew to them.“We were playing Darwin in NT and weren’t able to play and so we finished second three years in a row.“I was sort of freaking out getting picked for state whereas I should’ve been bloody excited.Salem, Kelly and Jayden Hunt graduated after Brighton’s bridesmaid run and then watched on from the sidelines as Shaw’s team secured a premiership three-peat in 2014-16.“It would’ve been nice to have won those – but it is what it is,” Salem said.But it would be even nicer for Salem to help Melbourne snap its 57-year premiership drought.As one of the club’s ‘Three Cs’ – Christian, Christian and Clayton (they do not require surnames) – he is a defining force.All three started this season coming out of contract.All three quickly recommitted.Oliver signed for two years, Salem for five years and Petracca for seven years.It was no coincidence. Once one was in, they were all in.“Us three are pretty close. We’re like brothers, pretty much,” Salem said.“We did Europe and America together. It’s pretty special that we’re all committed and staying on together.”Happy snaps live on Instagram of the Three Cs goofing around at Europe’s ancient surrounds.Oliver is 24, Petracca is 25 and Salem is 26 … and on holiday they would be impossible to pick as the three keys to Melbourne’s march at making history.In 2017, when the Dees dropped out of the top eight on percentage in the final game of the season, Salem jumped straight on a plane to Lebanon.His father, Alex, had grown up there as one of 10 siblings and Christian visited the family’s village, out past Beirut, for the first time.“Eye opening,” Salem said of the experience.“To see how they live and how happy they were with what they had, it gives you appreciation for when you come back here.”Back here Salem’s strength is greatly appreciated.He is the bullseye backman who bites off big kicks, having grown up with a ball in his hand.Teachers at Brighton Grammar recount how Salem would tuck his school books under one arm and a Sherrin under the other, bouncing it around between the school bells.But Salem said the source of his stardom was not his sublime left-foot kicking.“It’s more the decision-making,” he said.“I think a lot of people are good kicks – but the decision-making separates a lot of players.“Putting myself under more pressure at training sort of slows it down in games.”This year classy Christian has averaged 25.1 disposals, 415m gained, six marks and six intercept possessions.They are all career-highs. But he is not really a numbers man.Salem is quality over quantity and so he invites players and coaches to come at him from every angle during the week to help him stop the clock on Saturdays.Salem inherited Gerard Healy and Garry Lyon’s famous No.3 at Melbourne and now a generation of supporters wear it wanting to kick like Christian.What is Salem’s advice be to those youngsters?“It’s about repetition at training,” he said.“Keep challenging yourself and don’t stress about making mistakes because that’s how you improve.”

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