Only the best of the best become known by a single name. It might just be the most accurate measuring stick of sporting greatness.
Jordan, Warnie, Roger or the unparalleled ‘Don’ are all examples of an athlete becoming known by the singular, such is their notoriety. Tonight, Australian football farewells its addition to that list.
While not quite Don Bradman-esque in terms of statistical domination of an entire sport or anywhere near the equal of Roger Federer and Michael Jordan in terms of fame, fortune and worldwide adoration, Tim Cahill has earned the right to be known simply as ‘Timmy’.
I am still stunned by the number of somewhat negative anecdotal tales that people relay to me about Australia’s greatest Socceroo and potentially our greatest player. Recently a friend told me a story about Cahill’s behaviour in the tunnel prior to an international at ANZ Stadium in 2017.
Her father was afforded the opportunity to be at close quarters with the squad in the moments before they took to the pitch. Apparently the players were all charming, kind and engaging with the young kids who would take the nervous walk onto the pitch with them – except Cahill, that is.
Supposedly he was raging, eyes bulging and rampant with aggressive energy, the contest well and truly the most important thing in his life at the point. The summation from the witness was quite simple: “Cahill is a dickhead”.
Do I believe that? No way.
On another occasion, a fellow football writer expressed a comprehensive dislike for Cahill. He cited supposed ‘illegal’ tactics in the box designed to create space and allow him to get on the end of crosses without sufficient attention from defenders. I was a little stunned and felt rather convinced of two things.
One, Cahill worked as hard and as shrewdly in the box as any player would when used as the focal point in a set piece. Every great player does it and needs to do it. A striker’s ability to mark out territory is vital.
Second, I was convinced that tall-poppy negativity and the writer’s own shortcomings as a player may have informed their view far more than the actual truth.
To his credit, Tim Cahill wouldn’t give two hoots. He has been there, played at the top level for two decades and has no doubt deflected similar barbs that came his way with a steely determination. Proving doubters wrong and ignoring nonsensical criticism is something all the great athletes must do.
Has Cahill ever played a poor game? Of course he has, and there will be many that he would openly recall. However, the level of consistency he was able to achieve over a 21-year club career and a 15-year international career is astonishing.
Tack on the freakish longevity he has enjoyed and his true class and value to Australian football become known.
Without Cahill’s heroics in recent years the Socceroos might be in a completely different headspace to the seemingly positive and energetic one they appear to be in under the new boss Graham Arnold. While some veterans linger as parts of the furniture, unable to contribute as they once did, Cahill was something different. To the very end he lost little.
Should his selection have been automatic for the last World Cup campaign with the Socceroos looking very light on for goals and an eye to the future required? Some would say no. However, the sad reality for the national team is that as I type these very words, Tim Cahill is probably still the best Australian goalscoring option available, and he will be 39 in December.
(Matt King/Getty Images)
There are young men threatening. Awer Mabil was in my black book back in his Adelaide days, Jamie Maclaren is developing, and with the future support of Daniel Arzani, Riley McGree and Andrew Nabbout, Australia just might get things sorted.
Yet at the moment we have an ineffective front third, with Matthew Leckie, Robbie Kruse, Tomi Juric and James Troisi only scraping together 26 international goals from 204 matches. Perhaps as we say farewell to Timmy tonight we should reflect on the fact that Cahill scored 26 international goals after his 32nd birthday.
For people less emotionally charged about the match between the Socceroos and Lebanon tonight or for those yet to be convinced of his greatness, it might be prudent to reflect on the esteem with which he is held by teammates and ex-managers.
The consensus has always been that Cahill might just be one of the most competitive and positive people on the planet. A passion for success and the willingness to tread the difficult path required to achieve it lie at the core of his success.
As former boss Ange Postecoglou said after Cahill’s superhuman performance against Syria in 2017, “He’s just a freak. He’s got real belief in himself. He’s just a unique, extraordinary individual. He led from the front”.
And that is the vacuum that Tim Cahill leaves. A chasm, really. However, all things must eventually come to an end.
We’ll always have Kaiserslautern, his volley against the Netherlands and hopefully tonight’s match as vivid and passionate memories of the only modern Socceroo to earn the right to go by the single moniker.
Enjoy retirement, Timmy, and bang one in tonight. It would be fitting.