McCarthy was a loved battler who found niche at Port

John McCarthy was an AFL battler, which is why Port Adelaide loved him.

In less than a year at the blue-collar South Australian club, McCarthy proved a perfect fit.

It didn't matter at Port that the 22-year-old with a fine football pedigree was a Victorian - from Collingwood no less.

What mattered was his no-frills and relish for a scrap - qualities cherished at Port.

''John was a very popular Port Adelaide player who had embraced the club as we had embraced him,'' Port's chief executive Keith Thomas said yesterday after McCarthy died in Las Vegas.

McCarthy's father played for Geelong. So did his brother. His grandfather played for St Kilda, two uncles for North Melbourne.


And as a teen, McCarthy seemed destined to follow his family members into the AFL.

He was a stand-out as a junior in his home town of Sorrento on Victoria's Mornington Peninsula.

He progressed to the Dandenong Stingrays in the under 18s, but injury curtailed him to nine games in two seasons. However, Collingwood was impressed to the extent it drafted him with its first pick of the 2007 national draft. But the AFL proved difficult for McCarthy, who managed just 18 games over four seasons at Collingwood, unable to crack a permanent berth in the strong Magpie team.

Port sensed he deserved more opportunity, so made him an offer and signed him in this year's pre-season draft.

''He came into our footy club looking to reignite his career,'' Thomas said.

''He played 21 of the 22 games this year, started like a bomb and looked fantastic - we had great hopes for him.''

McCarthy saved his best for his ex-club. In round four against Colling-wood, he collected 30 disposals - a career-high in his 39-game career.

McCarthy finished eighth in Port's best and fairest count last Friday night. The next day, he kissed girlfriend Dani Smarrelli goodbye and flew to Las Vegas with 10 teammates.

Less than 24 hours after arriving, McCarthy was dead after falling from a Vegas hotel.

''This is a major, major setback emotionally, but we'll come through it,'' Thomas said.

''We'll wrap our arms around our players and their partners … and we will be stronger for it.'' AAP