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.