Karmichael Hunt, take a bow
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Karmichael Hunt celebrates with the Gold Coast Suns after beating Richmond in Cairns. (Slattery Imags)
If there’s been a more uplifting piece of play in the AFL this year than Karmichael Hunt’s after-the-siren goal to give Gold Coast victory over the Tigers, I haven’t seen it.
Even this hardened Richmond man can’t help but smile when watching the replay on Youtube (below).
Even in the heat of watching the game live, you had to marvel at how far the former rugby league national has come, and feel good about the evolution of his story.
Since making his debut for the Brisbane Broncos at the age of seventeen, Hunt has achieved more in nine years than scores of men could dream of in ten lifetimes.
Youngest ever Bronco. Rookie of the year honours in 2004. NRL premiership in 2006. Australian representative in a victorious Tri-Nations. State of Origin fullback for Queensland. Professional rugby union in France. Senior football at VFL and now AFL level.
It’s a glittering array of honours, and to think Karmichael is only 25 years old! (Sonny Bill Williams, take note.)
The history of Hunt’s move to AFL football has been well documented, and the vocal condemnation of the long line of critics even more so.
Short-sighted ex- and even current players voiced disapproval at his inflated wage, failing to understand that there was a picture much, much bigger that just one man. It can easily be argued that such was the publicity surrounding the coup, Hunt had paid his way before even pulling on a Suns jumper.
But back to that magical kick.
We all know the ‘boyhood dream’ story of kicking the winning goal after the siren, but in reality it seldom happens at the highest level. Jordan McMahon, in 2009, was the last player to do it, which was the only time it had happened in the last seven seasons.
In fact, Karmichel joins Chris Tarrant as the only current player to achieve this feat.
The youth and future of the Gold Coast Suns was on display. Trent McKenzie, in only his 33rd game, won the centre clearance with 16 seconds to go and unloaded one of his patented spearing punts. There are few with a more lethal left boot. Brandon Matera, a natural crumbing forward playing match number 22, fed on the crumbs, and used his guile and smarts to centre the ball.
Had he seen Hunt there, free in space 25m out from goal? I think he had. An almost imperceptible flick of the head as he stumbled while picking up the ball had given him all the information he needed.
And who had read the play better than 34 other players on the ground? The rugby league convert who would ‘never make it’. The struggler who would ‘never have a feel for the game’. The mercenary who was going to be ‘a waste of time and money’.
Hunt calmly went back, accepting some advice and words of comfort from his close friend and protégé Harley Bennell, and skipper Gary Ablett. It’s not a stretch to say that those three will be filling the podium positions of the Suns best and fairest count right now.
Pressure? Karmichael eats it for breakfast.
To perform to the level he has throughout 2012, despite his detractors looking to pick him apart at every turn during his first season, already suggested that he had the intestinal fortitude to thrive in the most trying of circumstances.
A few deep breaths. A calming look at the yellow Sherrin in his hands. A glance at the goals.
In he ambles, shrouded in the relaxed air of confidence that all elite athletes have when it’s crunch time, and the game is riding on their shoulders.
Well, you know the rest.
Was the sound of ball hitting boot the kick that was heard throughout the country? It was surely the sound of the Australian sporting landscape being forever altered.
When Karmichael Hunt retires from elite sport, he will be remembered as an AFL footballer, and given his storied past, that is an astounding truth.
Cameron Rose is a born and bred Melbournian, raised on a regime of AFL, cricket and horse racing. He likes people who agree with him but loves those that don't, for in his mind there is nothing better than a roaring debate. He tweets from @camtherose.