'Never play for Johnny, just play with him.' Mourners remember a beloved son and teammate
JOHN McCarthy was farewelled today in what had been billed as a football funeral. It was attended by a who’s who of the game he loved, yet as a tribute it laid bare how much more he was than a young man forever chasing a ball.
For every teammate past and present — including the Collingwood players who meet Sydney in a preliminary final on Friday night — there were many more in the gathering of around 1500 at St Mary’s Star of the Sea Catholic Church in Sorrento who adored McCarthy long before he strode smiling into the spotlight.
Football sketches players as ‘‘integral’’, the ‘‘lifeblood’’, a vital ‘‘cog’’ in a machine. Set alongside the heartfelt words used to describe McCarthy, who died in Las Vegas last week, footy is stripped back to the mere game it is.
Remembered: Scenes in the church prior to the funeral for Port Adelaide and former Collingwood player John McCarthy. Photo: AFL Media
Precious. Gorgeous. Adored. A person who, from the beginning of his 22-year life, all around him were besotted with. Someone who made everything better by simply being there.
Those Collingwood teammates with whom he shared four cherished years boarded a bus for Melbourne Airport with heavy hearts. Their task is immediate; the challenge of moving on without one so loved and loving awaits all who were left standing on a tear-streaked Sorrento hillside, wrestling their grief.
‘‘Our Johnny boy is one of the most extraordinary human beings we have been privileged to know — his love, kindness, softness, spirituality,’’ his mother Cath said. Only recently, she had learnt that the youngest of her five children prayed for his family every night, ‘‘and for everyone he loved’’.
The funeral of John McCarthy at St Mary's Star of the Sea in Sorrento. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo
There were many in his heart. A family whose branches are laden with cousins regarded more like siblings. The friends from a community described as ‘‘tribal’’ — forged on its streets, in its waters, at its football club, in the playground of the primary school that backed onto the packed church grounds.
His partner Dani, who spoke so nakedly of the bond of two people who knew they’d found something that would endure. ‘‘He just generated love,’’ Cath McCarthy said.
His aunt and uncle also gave eulogies, and eldest sibling Matt. A rich, colourful picture formed of a beautiful boy with striking eyes and girl’s eyelashes, who got away with things in the classic youngest child way. And who instinctively knew when others needed his light, like the girl on the school bus who had her sadness lifted with a squeeze of McCarthy’s hand.
Vale John McCarthy
John McCarthy gets a kiss from mum Catherine after his first AFL match on August 9, 2008 - in which the Magpies beat St Kilda. Photo: Paul Rovere
‘‘Everywhere he went he touched people, and I believe he made them better, because he was not ashamed to show love,’’ his mother said. ‘‘As a family we have no regrets, for we could not have loved him more. There were no handshakes in our family, only hugs, kisses and love.’’
Football was represented from Andrew Demetriou down to the Sorrento Sharks, with those he had played with and against or simply moved along the way filling out the wings and flanks. Cath McCarthy thanked them all, praised all AFL footballers who are ‘‘exposed to pressures well beyond your years’’ for being exemplary young men, and had a thought for those beyond football’s family who daily experience their own loss.
‘‘To every parent who has lost a darling child, [just] because our boy was in the public eye and has received such enormous support, we know your child was just as loved, just as special, and just as important.’’
She apologised to the coaches of Collingwood and Port Adelaide, where her son left an indelible mark, for saying that whenever they meet, she and John’s father Shane, who stood at her side, will be praying for a draw.
‘‘[But] whatever the results, we will be cheering for every player out there, and hoping Johnny is helping them. For never play for Johnny, just play with him.’’