Lonergan had earned the admiration of the AFL when he fought back from the sickening on-field collision in 2006 that almost cost him his life to kick the first goal in the grand final for Geelong against Hawthorn two years later.
The Cats missed out that year and so did Lonergan. Geelong won the flag in 2007 and 2009 as he watched from the stands.
He had been recruited from Yarrawonga via Assumption College to fill a key forward position but they were occupied by Cameron Mooney and Tom Hawkins, who hails from nearby Finley.
Last season was a defining one for Lonergan and the club.
Geelong missed the grand final, coach Mark Thompson and captain Gary Ablett departed and Lonergan spent the year being re-programmed as a key defender.
And when dual premiership skipper Tom Harley retired after the 2009 season, Lonergan seized the vacancy.
Harley said today’s team would probably have five players who didn’t play in the 2007 and 2009 premierships.
“Tom is the odd one out because he played in the 2008 loss,” Harley said.
“He was desperate to stay at Geelong and you didn’t need to be a rocket scientist to know a spot was opening up,” he said.
“He made sure he grabbed it and trained his backside off over summer to get really fit and strong.
“Tom knows what his strengths are. He has got really good closing speed and times his spoils exceptionally well.”
During yesterday’s parade, Lonergan said the tough times had taught him not to take anything for granted.
“Everyone dreams of winning a premiership and I’m no exception to any of the players who haven’t won one,” Lonergan said.
“It’s been an eventful journey, but we’re here and I can’t wait for tomorrow.
“You don’t take these things for granted, You work as hard as you can, and, obviously, the team’s done really well.
“I’m just thrilled to be among the team this time.
“But there’s hard work to do tomorrow first.”
Today he runs onto the MCG with the huge task of curbing one of Collingwood’s monster forwards, Chris Dawes or Travis Cloke.
After being the regular opponent for Hawthorn champion, “Buddy” Franklin, Lonergan won’t be daunted as he chases a premiership medallion.
Lonergan might not share the profile of All-Australians Matthew Scarlett, Corey Enright and Harry Taylor in the Cats’ powerful back six.
But, his presence is critical. He ranks second for the club in spoils — a hallmark of any quality defender.
“It’s a pretty remarkable story,” Brownlow Medal winning teammate Jimmy Bartel said.
“The injury he fought back from was pretty much life threatening at one stage.
“Now he’s a central part of our defence.
“He takes on the best key forwards and probably allows Scarlo (Matthew Scarlett) and Andrew Mackie to release and create.
“It’s an amazing effort, not only to get back to playing AFL footy, but to be a key part of our defence.
“It was pretty motivating to see him get back, full-stop.
“Just seeing the way he prepares for footy and what he had to overcome is pretty inspiring.
“It’s a pretty remarkable story.”
The Lonergan story started in less remarkable fashion — country kid with footballing ability finds his way to AFL club.
After starting with Yarrawonga, Lonergan played in the TAC Cup for Murray Bushrangers and Calder Cannons as well as Assumption College where he completed his year-12 studies.
In 2001, he made a memorable senior debut for Yarrawonga against Wodonga Raiders at Birallee Park.
Playing alongside some of the Pigeons’ greatest of the modern era, Jason Wild, Tim Hargreaves, Jarrod Sutherland and John Brunner, the youngster booted six goals after being hampered, ironically by a bruised kidney, when he landed heavily taking a spectacular mark.
A year later at the under-18 national championships, Lonergan soared up the draft rankings with a starring role for Vic Country in the grand final against Vic Metro.
On draft day, Lonergan was taken by the Cats and his good mate from Yarrawonga and Assumption, Bo Nixon, was drafted by Collingwood.
Lonergan is not the only footballer in the family.
Older brother Terry played in a premiership for Rennie reserves this season and Marc, who is overseas, is playing for the London Wildcats.
His father, Bernie, has called Ovens and Murray footy on radio stations 3NE and OAKFM, including the season Tom made his debut for the Pigeons.
Bernie played for the Pigeons in the early 1970s when the club was being tormented by Wangaratta Rovers in grand finals and later won the Lawless Trophy when he was assistant coach of Katamatite in the now-defunct Tungamah league.
“It has been a bit of a journey,” Bernie said.
“We always thought he would get back because that was his will and what he wanted to do.
“He is just playing his role and doing the job asked of him.
“We’ve just got to wait until 5 o’clock and see what happens, but we are reasonably confident.”