Okay so I know that many of my followers may not be big sports fans so don’t get turned off by the fact that this post is technically about sport – specifically Australian Rules Football – because if you are from the US of A you might be interested to know that our great game has a new hero. Mason Cox, a 211cm former soccer and basketball player from Texas was recruited three years ago by Collingwood Football Club (my club, incidentally) not knowing very much about the code beyond the fact that it’s a differently shaped ball from any he is used to. A few months later he informed his parents that he was off to the arse end of the world to play Australian Rules. His parents must have had conniptions at the time but they’ve supported him in his career choices and this week flew from the US to Australia to watch Mason in his first Preliminary final. If you want to know the importance of AFL in Australia, it’s sort of on a par with the Superbowl. Pretty much everyone has their favourite team – even my kids, who claim to hate sports, still occasionally show the barest of interest in who’s playing whom and who’s winning. Or, in the case of my ex, who’s injured. Six months of the year is invested in this crazy sport where men run after a ball shaped like a blimp, kick and handball it down the field until someone kicks a goal. Our national sport is unique for two reasons: a) its the only football code where you jump to catch the ball (take a mark) either in a pack (contested) or in space (uncontested); and b) it’s a high-contact sport, but despite the fact that there are collisions, injuries and concussions galore, we don’t wear padding. Plus, for the straight girl and gay guy alike, there’s eye-candy. Lots and lots of eye-candy.
But I digress. As I mentioned, Mason joined Collingwood as a rookie three years ago knowing next to nothing about the sport. His very first game was a baptism of fire: Anzac Day 2016 in front of roughly 96,000 people (and the rest, watching on TV). He didn’t do too badly; kicked a couple of goals from memory. This year he starred in our Big Freeze game against Melbourne Demons, kicking five goals as a Full-Forward. Last night, in the penultimate game of the season, the Preliminary Final against the ladder leaders Richmond, he tore the Tigers apart with three goals in the second quarter and 11 marks – the second highest mark tally for an individual in a final … EVER. He was just unstoppable. This morning the papers said “Bye Bye said the American Pie” (bye bye Richmond, that is, who were so sure they were going to go back-to-back quite a few of their players were in tears after the 39 point thrashing). Of course it wasn’t just Mason who contributed to the win that put us in the AFL Grand Final. All 22 knew their role and played it to perfection. There are so many great stories in this team that a sports journalist would be salivating.
*There’s Jordan DeGoey, who was suspended at the beginning of the year for an off-field drink-driving indiscretion but came back and repaid the faith the Pies had shown in him by becoming one of the most dynamic, exciting forwards in the game in just six months;
*Tyson Goldsack, who came back from a season-ending knee injury in March and played in the last three games, including two finals;
*Travis Varcoe, who lost his sister Maggie in a sickening on-field collision in the women’s reserves league in Adelaide (she was in a coma for a week before the life support was turned off). He could have had that week off but decided to play in the Qualifying Final vs the Eagles two weeks ago. There was a minute’s silence at the game in Maggie’s honour and all the players wore black armbands. He said afterward that Maggie would have wanted him to play, even though the Pies eventually lost by 16pts.
*Josh Thomas, who, along with another team mate who’s no longer at Collingwood, was suspended for two years under the performance-enhancing drug laws for taking a prohibited substance but has since, like DeGoey, repaid the faith Collingwood showed in keeping him on the list and supporting him.
There’s Mason of course, but the biggest story of them all would have to be that of our coach, Nathan Buckley. Former player, captain, Norm Smith Medallist, Brownlow Medallist, All Australian multiple times, Rising Star winner (1993), winner of 6 club Best and Fairests … the list goes on. There is nothing Bucks hasn’t done… except win a premiership. He retired in 2007 after the prelim final loss to Geelong with a recurring hamstring injury. Since then he’s studied coaching in the US, been to the Australian Institute of Sport, and finally became our coach in 2012, part of a succession plan that had many detractors predicting would cause dissension in the ranks. And they were right: after reaching the finals in 2011 under Mick Malthouse, the boys were told Mick was leaving. He’d just steered them to a flag the year before but the succession plan had him play a mentoring role his ego couldn’t handle. But that’s another story altogether.
I’ll admit that I was one of Bucks’ critics early on. By 2016,when we’d missed the finals for the third year in a row and were sliding down the ladder by increments every year, I was convinced the club had made a huge mistake. ‘We were on the brink of a dynasty’ fans were crying, ‘Why did you let Mick go?” I even posted about it in here, with a lengthy diatribe about how I thought it was time for a change.
How wrong I was.
Nathan Buckley, with the help of a extensive review that saw a shakeup of his coaching panel, was given two year contract extension and allowed to have more say in recruiting. after a poor 2017 where the club ended up 13th on the ladder (just so you know, there are 18 teams). Our injury list was longer than Mason Cox’s arm. Now, we still have injuries, but Bucks has the boys playing an exciting game plan based on pressure, pressure, and more pressure, as well as linking handballs, and a dynamic, fluid forward line that’s hard to match up on. Our ruckman, Brodie Grundy, as well as premiership player Steele Sidebottom, made All-Australian. But better than all of that, next week, on the last Saturday in September, we play the West Coast Eagles in the AFL Grand Final.
CARN THE PIES!!!!!!!
Pictures: Left: Mason and Travis Varcoe give each other a high-five; Right: One of Mason’s high-flying grabs in last night’s win over the Tigers.