Clasping his coveted Logie aloft on stage after being recognised as TV’s best new talent, ABC sports juggernaut Tony Armstrong was quick to acknowledge one person in particular.
‘There’s a lot of people I need to thank but first of all the old cheese… mum…Margaret Anne Armstrong… she is a superstar,’ an emotional Armstrong told the star-studded event on the Gold Coast on Sunday night.
‘She has done everything for me and and I wouldn’t be up here without her.
‘So big thanks to her and please give her a clap, she will love it back home.’
The story behind Armstrong’s rise to one of Australia’s most popular media identities after a tough upbringing and a spluttering AFL career is one of inspiration – with his mother front and centre.
‘There’s a lot of people I need to thank but first of all the old cheese…’ Tony said of mum Margaret (from his Instagram)
Tony was raised by his school-teacher single mum and has never met his father
Thirty two years ago Tony was born in Sydney to a single mother then living in Paddington and working as a schoolteacher.
The pair would later move to the Riverina with a father ‘not around’ and no siblings ‘that I know of’, as Tony would reveal years later.
A popular winner at Sunday night’s Logies, Armstrong was crowned Best New Talent
Mother and son would eventually move to the tiny town of Brocklesby, 45km north-west of Albury, and later to nearby Burrumbuttock, equally small with a population of about 200.
Armstrong later described to the Sydney Swans media team that this moment was one of the most defining in his life.
It was then his mother, a primary school teacher, scraped together every cent of her savings to send Tony away to boarding school at Assumption College, Kilmore, famous as a football nursery.
It wasn’t as if he walked into the prestigious school on a scholarship.
He didn’t. His Mum made “massive sacrifices” to pay his way.
‘It’s not something you fully appreciate at the time but I’ll be forever grateful. She’s everything to me mum,’ he said.
‘I wanted to dodge high school and become a tradie like most of my mates,” Tony said. But his mother insisted he finish school
Tony was a surprise choice to replace Paul Kennedy as the ABC’s sports reporter in 2021
Midway through his studies Armstrong admitted later he desperately wanted to quit school.
‘I wanted to dodge high school and become a tradie like most of my mates,” he said.
Admitting that ‘anyone who knows me will know I could never have been a tradie’, Tony stuck it out and finally completed grade 12.
‘Mum insisted I finish school,’ he said.
Armstrong finished at Assumption about the same time he was drafted by the Adelaide Crows with selection #58 in the 2007 AFL National Draft after having played with the NSW/ACT Rams and the Calder Cannons in the TAC Cup.
In 2010 he debuted for the senior squad against Fremantle at Subiaco but a year later walked out on the Adelaide Crows and requested a trade to the Sydney Swans, the club he supported as a child growing up in NSW.
April 2012 saw him make his debut for the Swans, replacing club captain Adam Goodes who was suspended for the match.
‘I’m definitely better at talking about footy than I was playing it,’ he has said of his AFL career
Armstrong played just one season for the Sydney Swans before being signed by Collingwood
Mixed fortunes followed, with Armstrong later delisted by Sydney and signed by Collingwood before being again de-listed after playing just one senior game.
Knocked down but not out, his struggles in the AFL would eventually be something of a blessing for Armstrong.
‘What that’s done is set me up to be a little bit fearless when it comes to trying new things. It’s a bit of a superpower – not being scared to fail, because I’ve already done that,’ he told The Guardian in 2021.
‘I’ve done it, you know, I’ve kind of finished footy and felt like crap and failed at it but I’m fine, right?’
A proud Barranbinya man, Armstrong made the leap from sport to media in 2020 when a friend suggested he try AFL radio commentary with the National Indigenous Radio Service.
Tony has been a fan favourite since joining ABC Breakfast last year
‘I’m definitely better at talking about footy than I was playing it,’ he said at the time.
A year later he would find himself called up to the TV big leagues, drafted in as permanent replacement for former ABC sports presenter Paul Kennedy.
Asked where his talent for the media came from, he again deferred to his mother.
‘I put it all down to Mum. She always loved the performing arts. She took me to the theatre, encouraged me to read a lot and always try to learn,” he said.
‘We’ve got a fantastically strong relationship and I love her to bits.
‘And she is hilariously firm but fair. She’s never backwards about coming forwards and giving me some feedback that’s for sure! She’ll say ‘Tony, get a bloody haircut’.
“She’s so chuffed and so proud, which is great, and without getting too cheesy, it feels like we’re both kind of enjoying the wins as they come.’