MICHAEL Walters has tattoos, a big grin, and an on-field countenance that screams 'catch me if you can'.

At 22, he has 80 goals in 41 games to his name, and he is about to play in an AFL Grand Final in just his fifth outing on the MCG.

His nickname 'Son-Son' now has an alternate strip - 'Sonny' - that has caught on since he joined the Dockers.

That he grew up in Western Australia on Bushby Street, the same Midvale patch as West Coast's Nic Naitanui and Carlton's Chris Yarran, is widely known and Naitanui is looking forward to seeing his childhood neighbour strut his stuff in the biggest game of all.

"I'm pretty excited about it and pretty jealous as well," the Eagles' star said. "I hope he goes well. I hope he goes real well."

Naitanui should, he's played a part in getting him there.

Walters was picked up at No.53 in the 2009 AFL Draft, while Naitanui and Yarran were taken in the top 10.

He played 13 games in his first three seasons, by which stage Naitanui had 55 and Yarran 45 under their respective belts.

However, Walters did not get to start his fourth season at Fremantle.

The club decided to send him back to Swan Districts at the start of 2012 to get his body and mindset in the right shape to play consistent football at the elite level.

It didn't banish him, as some like to loosely say. The Dockers sent him back to a supportive environment within his old club and left the ball in his court to make his own decisions.  

Phil Smart was at Swan Districts and happy to take Walters back so he could go forwards.

"Fremantle obviously sent him a pretty harsh message and he could go either of two ways," Smart said. "He could go off the edge or he could put his head down and work hard. Credit to him, he had a baby [Laila] at that time and he put his head down and worked hard and he's got the reward."

Swan Districts was a place Walters felt comfortable and he set to work alongside the coach Greg Harding, Smart and former players such as Des Headland.

"Our club was very strong in supporting him and I think that helped him a lot," Smart said. "He had just one goal and that was get back and prove to people that he was capable of playing consistent AFL footy."

His coach Ross Lyon has never underestimated the power of setting a task and getting people to work towards it. He applied that approach with Walters.

"It’s not that I considered quitting, but I am pretty hard headed and I wanted to prove everyone wrong," Walters told AFLPA.com.au at the start of September. "I was told that I was overweight. I was told that I was unfit, (but) I didn’t want to quit. I wanted to make a point and I think that I did."

He also wanted to buy a house and support his new family. He now has another baby on the way and a blossoming career.

Naitanui rallied around him at the time too. He not only told Walters he was too good to be playing with Swan Districts, but his family paid their friend the most basic of courtesies.

"Mum was pretty upset to see it happening and wanted to help him out, so got him around for dinner and that - got it all sorted and put him on the right track again. As much as they're [West Coast and Fremantle] the rivals in town and no-one likes to hang out together because it looks bad, to us he is family," Naitanui said.

"It wasn't so much about getting back on track, it was more about 'do the right thing and enjoy your footy', which he did."

The simple message to Walters resonated as both families are close.

There was never any doubt however that Walters could play football well, nor were there questions about his character.

Mention his name to football development types and a broad grin covers their faces.

He's well respected and well liked among those who work in that space.

Alan McConnell is now with Greater Western Sydney but he was coaching the AIS-AFL Academy when Walters was in the program in 2008, after sharing the Kevin Sheehan Medal with Tom Scully at the 2007 under 16 national titles.

He was excellent with the ball in his hands and he was excellent when involved in the Academy sessions. It was when left to his own devices that he struggled to meet the requirements.

"His ability was never in question and his ability to flourish when opportunity was put right in front of his nose was also not in question," McConnell said. "[However he] was always going to need to go through that period of adjustment where he embraced what is needed to become an AFL footballer in a total sense."

Academy players only spend a limited amount of time as a group and in constant contact with coaches, but they have to meet requirements and inform coaches of their progress while away from that environment. Concerns were expressed at the time about Walters' willingness to meet some of those requirements.

McConnell explains the Academy soon recognised there were reasons:  "AIS is a bit like a correspondence course where you have contact for just 35 days. Michael would come into camp, he'd flourish and then he'd go home without the support and infrastructure around him and he would flounder a bit."

It wasn't just about Walters changing; it was about the program adapting too. Fremantle recognised this.

That, say many, is the real Walters story since 2012 - a two-sided tale of both a club realising what was needed to bring out his talent and the penny dropping for the player.

"If you gave him your time he could embrace what you were after very readily. It was about [him] becoming an initiator of those things as opposed to someone who did what was put in front of him," McConnell said.

Walters goes into his first Grand Final in excellent form, having kicked three goals and taken a screamer in the preliminary final. He has kicked at least one goal in each of his past 12 games.

A former coach at the Dockers said if his life depended on a player kicking at goal, he'd pick Walters for the job.

Smart mentioned his kicking skills as his constant strength.

An opponent said what makes Walters so hard to stop is that he has a leap that can come from nowhere.

Every football watcher has seen all three skills on display this year, and under Lyon he has added tackling pressure.

McConnell said Walters was always good when he had the ball.

"The challenge was getting more of the ball and getting it in a variety of ways. He had to work on his touch…you want to deny him the ball," McConnell said.

He is part of a forwardline that attracts the ball evenly, with Chris Mayne (65 times the inside 50 target), Hayden Ballantyne (65), Walters (59) and Matthew Pavlich (59) hard to counter.

Apart from playing footy and mucking around together back on Bushby Street, the Walters and Naitanui brothers played in the same basketball team for six years, winning plenty of medals along the way.

Naitanui reckons Walters was probably a better basketballer than footballer, but he can't resist delivering his mate a shot on the buzzer.

"He played everywhere. He just couldn't dunk it," Naitanui said.

But the Eagles' superstar has his fingers crossed that his mate can show the full range of his skills this week.

"It's never ending. He has got a big bag of tricks."