When tragedy strikes
Lest we forget: Troy Broadbridge, flowers for Port Adelaide player John McCarthy, and Jim Stynes' Melbourne jumper and boots at his state funeral.
FOOTY is supposed to have this endless, inevitable cycle to it that is monotonous and comforting at the same time.
It provides structure to the life of a football person in what can be an otherwise chaotic existence.
This season, we have twice had to confront mortality in a way that we will forever wish we never had to.
The season starts, and for the next 23 weeks you know where you are supposed to be at any given time. You train throughout the week, compete on the weekends, and then start all over again.
The finals arrive, 10 teams bow out of the competition and the remaining eight begin a new competition, the most exciting of all, that captures the attention and imagination of everyone, regardless of whether your team has made the final month.
Then we celebrate the biggest match of the year, one team enters the history books forever as the champion team, and then we break for a couple of months, before the summer campaign signals the start of a new year.
And we do it all over again.
This season, the cycle has been disturbed in a manner that has left us with so many questions and so few answers. In the analytical world of football, we have had to confront mortality in a way that we will forever wish we never had to.
Four days before this season's opening game, Melbourne great Jim Stynes passed away after a three-year battle with cancer. In the final months of Jim's extraordinary life, both he and his amazing wife, Sam, had accepted that, despite his unparalleled and unsurpassed strength and resilience, he was not going to prevail.
Having overcome insurmountable odds, time and time again, Jimmy lost the bravest of fights. Such was the magnitude, charisma and character of the man, when the news was finally delivered, there was still an overwhelming sense of disbelief and shock.
The entire football world came together to mourn and remember the man responsible for one of the game's most remarkable stories. The level of support and respect afforded to Jim was not surprising, yet it was humbling and remarkable to witness.
The impact it had on his football club could not be measured. He was a towering presence, whose spirit, compassion and empathy touched every single person with a red-and-blue affiliation.
Perspective is a word that was so often used during this time. It was appropriate, for it moved you to go to places in your mind that you may not have gone to, or wanted to go to, before.
Football clubs have evolved greatly in the past decade, and their capacity to deal with all manner of unforeseen circumstances has broadened enormously. The passing of someone so influential and revered as Jim challenged everyone at Melbourne.
The fact that eight years earlier the same club also mourned the loss of player Troy Broadbridge while on his honeymoon in Thailand, seemed at once both cruel and too much to ask. The sense of devastation was all too familiar; the ability to rationalise such heartbreak was anything but.
The feeling of loss continues to pervade the club, yet the manner in which they have, and continue to, deal with both Jim and Troy's passing has had a cathartic influence on the place. Jim's legacy is enormous, and his wife Sam and children Matisse and Tiernan will forever have an entire football club for support, dedicated to their well-being and future.
Troy's spirit lives on through his wife Trish, who maintains a presence around the football club, and his No.20 guernsey will forever carry an extra special significance.
For the Port Adelaide Football Club, there can be no tougher circumstance to deal with than the sense of loss it is experiencing after the tragic passing of John McCarthy.
As the season started in such sadness and devastation, three weeks out from its completion, so, too, does it end.
As for his family and partner, it is simply unimaginable to think of the hurt and suffering they are experiencing and expressions of sympathy, no matter how heartfelt, seem so sadly inadequate.
You are often asked what it is like to play AFL football. I say: "Get 30 of your closest mates together and meet up nearly every day to do the thing that you love doing most. And get paid really well for doing it."
It conjures up a great picture of camaraderie and togetherness. Of brothership. And right now, the players will feel like they have lost one of their brothers.
There is no manual for dealing with these circumstances. The players will grieve in their own way and find comfort where they can.
The football club will provide them with every support possible. They will hopefully draw strength from the genuine outpouring of emotion and support afforded by the greater football family.
It was strongly in evidence at the AFL Players Association awards night, where the atmosphere was subdued, a solemnity replacing the normally upbeat atmosphere consistent with the majority of players beginning their off-season wind-down.
It was evident at Collingwood training, where John started his AFL career, his former teammates struggling to come to grips with the fact that they were expected to play in a big final, only days after the death of their friend and colleague.
It was heart wrenching to watch Port captain Dom Cassisi give an interview on Thursday night on the news, the sense of devastation so clearly etched on his face, and reinforced with every word that he spoke.
Footballers are supposed to be able to deal with setbacks. It comes with the territory: injuries, lack of form, delistings, sacked coaches.
They are not expected to know how to deal with the circumstances of this week.
I know from experience, that having a football community care in the manner that they do, makes it a tiny bit easier.
And I know that at times they will question where football fits in the overall scheme of things, but they will also come to realise that it is football, and the "brotherhood" that will help them get through this.
The cycle of football will continue. Because it just does.
But season 2012 will ensure that it will never really be the same again.
Our thoughts and deepest sympathies are with John's partner, Dani Smarrelli, and the McCarthy family.