COLLINGWOOD players were in deep shock and mourning for popular former teammate John McCarthy after his sudden and tragic death in Las Vegas.
The 22-year-old former Collingwood player, who left the Pies last year and shifted to Port Adelaide seeking greater opportunities to play senior football, was extremely popular at Collingwood and had a tight group of friends.
Collingwood chief executive Gary Pert pulled some of those players aside early yesterday to pass on the awful news to them individually before gathering the wider group to inform them that the player who had been such a part of their lives until just a year ago had died suddenly.
Midfielder John McCarthy playing for Collingwood against Melbourne in round 12 last year. Photo: Paul Rovere
McCarthy was especially close with a group of players who all came through the club at the same time - Nathan Brown, Ben Reid, Dayne Beams, Brent Macaffer and Lachie Keeffe. They were naturally stunned by the news.
'' 'J-Mac' was a great mate to a lot of us. He was a gutsy teammate and wonderful person,'' said Collingwood captain Nick Maxwell. ''It's a terrible day, a devastating day. Everyone here, especially his closest friends, feel for the McCarthy family.
''Our thoughts and deepest sympathies are with them as we all bind together during this time. Today we lost a great friend.''
McCarthy played 18 games over four years at Collingwood. In 2010, he was an emergency for the grand final replay. It was a corollary of his career at Collingwood - close but not close enough, squeezed out of an exceptional side by more mature talent.
He left Collingwood without rancour seeking only the chance to play regular football. He found a home at Port Adelaide, the other side with a black and white heritage, and he got what he was looking for. He played 22 games in his first year at Port.
The Collingwood players will wear black armbands this week.
''They will play and honour their old teammate this Saturday night. To lose a player of his character and his wonderful personality is heartbreaking for all of us,'' said Collingwood president Eddie McGuire.
''We hope the boys can regroup and go out on the weekend and play in honour of their fallen teammate and their old friend, but that's the least of their issues at the moment.''
McCarthy's death leaves clubs across the country saddened by his passing. McCarthy, or J-Mac as he was called, was the type of player who was popular at the clubs he played for due to his easygoing nature.
According to some, he had the approach that reminded professional clubs they were, at heart, still just football clubs. The players were better, the pay certainly better, but still it was about playing games with mates. McCarthy loved to play the game and he liked his mates. He has left many behind.
The son of Shane and Cath McCarthy, the family was well known in Sorrento and the Mornington Peninsula where Shane was a local lawyer and the family stalwarts of the Sorrento Football Club.
Shane had been the president of Sorrento and he remains the honorary lawyer to the local league.
John played his junior footy at Sorrento, went to school at Peninsula Grammar and had a year at Dandenong Stingrays before he was drafted by Collingwood in 2007 with selection 31.
His football pedigree was strong. Shane played a couple of games in the early 1970s for Geelong, the club that John's older brother Matt played 22 games for from 2003 to 2006.
John was a light-bodied player and, physically, a bit behind other draftees having only had the one year at TAC level when he was selected. He arrived at Collingwood as a quick, running player with good skills, but there was a queue of talented midfielders ahead of him and he had to bide his time.
Despite leaving Collingwood he remained tight with the mates he left behind. ''It was the most devastating news, you couldn't think of a better bloke,'' McGuire said. ''Our hearts go out to his family and friends, particularly his parents who we all knew so well, always in the room after games.
''A real tight, close-knit family. The type of family you'd love to be a part of. I can't even begin to think of the heartbreak they'd be going through at the moment, the shock and the devastation.
''All I can express to them is the Collingwood family are standing with you side by side and we offer every support we can.''
With BRENT DIAMOND