Vale John McCarthy: a truly tragic loss
John McCarthy of Port Adelaide breaking a tackle. AAP Image/David Mariuz
Footballers are not meant to die. They’re supposed to be, in a broad sense, invincible. They get drafted, they learn things, they develop, they reach their peak, the lucky ones win premierships, then they retire.
Occasionally they get injured, and some get delisted.
Then they move on with their lives. You don’t even consider anything else.
We often forget that footballers, too, are human beings.
And just because they live very public lives and spend their weekends running around in front of tens of thousands of people, it doesn’t mean that tragedy can’t strike them and their families as well.
What a great shock it was to learn of the death of Port Adelaide midfielder John McCarthy, who was taken from us at just 22. He had played only 39 AFL games.
He had plenty more left in him. From this Port fan’s perspective, he was poised to become one more in a long line of recycled players that have forged new careers at Alberton.
Adam Kingsley. Josh Mahoney. Jarrad Schofield. David Rodan.
Players that started off somewhere else – outsiders to the true Port Adelaide tradition – but were repurposed, welcomed to the club with open arms and embraced.
After 21 games, three more than he played over the course of his four years at Collingwood, it appeared that the hard-nosed McCarthy was to follow in their footsteps.
What drew Port fans to McCarthy was that he clearly embraced the club in return.
He was no world-beater. He had problems with his disposal, but at Port Adelaide this year he certainly wasn’t alone. In a difficult season, his discovery and resurgence was one of very few positives.
It’s easy, at times like these, for the media to take shortcuts and describe McCarthy as a ‘star’ to make the story of his mysterious death a little more alluring, more click-worthy.
Indeed, it would be selling the man short to do so.
Things come easy for stars.
Nothing came easy for McCarthy. He had to fight and scrap for every possession, every game. In this small way, he was inspiring.
He couldn’t break through at Collingwood, but after the outpouring of emotion from Eddie McGuire, Nathan Buckley and the playing group yesterday there is no doubt he left an impression there.
He was given a lifeline by the Power at the end of 2011 and he grabbed it with both hands.
He was given a role by Matthew Primus and played it to the best of his ability, knowing that as a player on his second chance, one poor game could see him out of the side and put his career at risk.
He was not Travis Boak, much less Gary Ablett. He was one of the hundreds of other footballers in the AFL who simply had a job and got it done while they could.
Just another kid in the system, lucky enough to be living the dream. And the future was bright.
Now it’s been taken away, and all of a sudden the trivialities of football are put in perspective.
We don’t know how, we don’t know why. Really, it doesn’t matter. What we do know is that without him, Port Adelaide will never be the same.
Next season, the team will miss him to an extent. But the club, the people, his teammates and the wider Port Adelaide community will find it tough to go on.
I spent most of yesterday grappling with a horrible, sick feeling in my stomach.
I still can’t believe that one of my own Port Adelaide players is no longer here. A few weeks ago he was wearing my team’s guernsey. It just doesn’t feel real, or right, that he is gone.
Best of luck trying to find someone with a bad word to say about him.
The tributes from all over the AFL yesterday told us one thing – McCarthy was one of football’s good guys, a hard-working youngster who lived and played with a smile on his face.
The mere thought of what his family, friends and adoring partner must be going through right now is so deeply harrowing.
I only knew John McCarthy as a footballer, but his passing shows us all just how short life is. Like J-Mac did in each of his 39 games, we should make the most of it.
Vince Rugari is an Adelaide-born journalist who cut his teeth on the sporting graveyard that is the Gold Coast. He fancies the round ball and the Sherrin, and used to be a handy leg-spin bowler before injury curtailed a baggy green push. He is a Port Adelaide fan by birth, as painful as that has been recently. He's now sports editor of The Area News in Griffith, NSW.
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