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An unexpected call, and darkness descends on a city of lights


Bob Murphy

John McCarthy gets a kiss from mum Catherine after his first AFL match on August 9, 2008 - in which the Magpies beat St Kilda. Click for more photos

Vale John McCarthy

Photographs of Port Adelaide and former Collingwood player John McCarthy, who died in Las Vegas. Photo: Paul Rovere

THE thing about Las Vegas is that it is overwhelmingly big, bold, loud and bright. It does not relent. It does not stop. About a week ago I stood among those bright lights with a dozen or so of my teammates as we waited for the stragglers of our group to meet us before we all went out for dinner.

It was the last night of our trip and we'd decided to break bread together at a steakhouse across the road from where we were staying.

Three or four boys had a game of blackjack on the go as the rest of us huddled around telling stories and laughing. I would describe the mood as relaxed and low-key.

At some point I turned around to see my teammate Daniel Cross talking to someone on the phone. All of a sudden his face dropped and his voice wavered as he appeared to repeat what was being said to him down the line. It's a look I'd never seen on a teammate's face.

On the football field, one of the great wonders is the human chemistry that develops between teammates who have played together a long time. The longer you have played alongside someone, the more you're able to read body language, movements left and right, even the mood of that teammate.

This all helps with anticipation, it helps with your next move. These familiarities are worth split seconds on the field of play, and split seconds in elite sport are worth plenty.

I've known Daniel Cross for 12 years, played alongside him every year, and despite being a long way from the football field, when I saw his face drop and his voice drop an octave, the world around me and my teammates stopped. The city that is so bloody loud and bright went dark and quiet.

The saddest of sad news - that ''an AFL player has died in Las Vegas'' - had broken back home before any of us knew what had happened, and we were virtually next door. Like an electrical storm that hits swiftly, calls of panic and despair came pouring in to all of us.

With each passing moment, the horrific realisation began to sink in that despite our group of players being safe and accounted for, another footballer, another young man, was not.

When bad news hits and you are a long way from home, everything is magnified: the confusion, the utter sadness, the ache in your gut to get home as fast as you can.

I don't think I've had a more surreal 48 hours in my life than those that followed in Las Vegas and in transit. There was an enormous amount of grief but it was tinged, for me anyway, with a confusing kind of guilt.

I didn't know John McCarthy. I'm not even sure if I ever played on the same field as him.

Did I have the right to mourn a young man I never met?

One thing I think we can all be sure of, though, when it comes to our own grief, there is no map. It's more like a river creating it's own path. Ultimately, we are left with only questions, no answers.

The people whose lives John touched will gather in Sorrento today to say goodbye. Our hearts have been breaking for them - the Port Adelaide players, his old Collingwood teammates, friends and, of course, his family.

His precious memory will live on in the hearts of all who knew him.

For those of us who only knew him from afar, our rivers will trickle along at their own pace.

21 comments so far

  • With no disrespect to John McCarthy's close friends and family (and my condolonces to them), but the media have overhyped his death. It seems his death was the catalyst for the Magpies win, and now Bob Murphy writing some pointless philosophy about the death of strange footballers. People die all the time, it's unfortunate but just let the guy rest in peace.

    Date and time
    September 20, 2012, 7:26AM
    • PK...what's happened to you, have you lost your humanity? I don't follow footy but to be so callus. You don't speak for me, who still feel emotions, by stating that John's death was hyped and to align a death with an expedient win.......honestly?....not healthy state of mind quite frankly.

      Date and time
      September 20, 2012, 10:02AM
    • PK - this man does rest in peace and today he will be laid to rest, death brings out many emotions, if as you believe it has been overhyped, then the media is to blame not John McCarthy, if it motivated Collingwood to win, then it has delivered something positive out of tragic.
      I am neither a lover of Collingwood or Las vegas or knew John McCarthy, but I respect and uphold the right of anyone to mourn this death in however or whatever way they see fit. We should leave them to it, it's their time.

      The Burbs
      Date and time
      September 20, 2012, 11:20AM
    • "People die all the time, it's unfortunate but just let the guy rest in peace."

      PK, it's different when someone well known and in the public eye passes away. The media obviously have the right (and duty) to report to the general public information surrounding the incident, due to the fact that the person is known and respected by many. It's been this way for decades.
      It doesn’t mean that there is more importance put on J-Mac's death than say, your next door neighbour who died in a car accident If you can't see that, then sadly you've lost a bit of your soul.

      Thanks for the article Bob.

      Date and time
      September 20, 2012, 11:25AM
    • PK lousy comment on today of all days! He was so young and so are the boys mourning him today, its reality at its harshest.

      Date and time
      September 20, 2012, 11:29AM
    • @Bella,

      you might find PK's comment distasteful, but I understand where he's coming from. I, too, find it somewhat repugnant that Collingwood used McCarthy's death to bolster themselves to a win. They behaved as though he was an integral member of Collingwood when the truth is he rarely got a game with them and had no real impact while he was there.

      McCarthy's death was tragic, but if there is any continued focus on his death, it ought to be as a means to warn others about the dangers of excessive drinking and idiotic behaviour. Because tragic though his death was, it was still a result of utter stupidity. The real tragedy is that his family and friends now have to find a way to cope with losing him.

      Date and time
      September 20, 2012, 11:31AM
    • It is disrespect to his friends and family. Take a good long hard look at yourself mate. There is no hype here.

      Date and time
      September 20, 2012, 11:34AM
    • Maybe too soon but, as much as I don't agree with your sentiments, there is the feeling of what a waste.

      Date and time
      September 20, 2012, 11:34AM
    • Actually, and also with no disrespect at all to the man’s family and friends – for whom, his death is, surely, a great loss – PK’s comment calling for a bit of perspective and sense of proportion is well-made and is a very fair contribution to intelligent public debate (which is, after what these comment/opinion pages are for).

      As far as is I understand, the man died by way of a unfortunate ill-advised misadventure on his own part. Again, a great loss to his family and friends, but I cannot see how, in a wider sense, this is as tragic and profound or worthy of ongoing comment as countless other premature deaths daily around the world, many of which occur in far more noble and appalling circumstances (such as our personnel serving around the world; refugees everywhere, etc.).

      And beyond that, we all die – simple as that – most of us unmourned by any other than those close to us (and for some, not even that).

      Date and time
      September 20, 2012, 11:38AM
    • I have to agree with you PK- every death particularly a young man with his whole life ahead of him is a sad sad event. However time to let the boy rest in peace and his family mourn without every football expert in australia putting their two bobs worth down on paper. I really hope the young Aussie soldiers who gave their lives in Afganastan recently get the same amount of attention and their families the same support

      Date and time
      September 20, 2012, 11:53AM

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