Sunday, 23 August 2015

An excitable pup, an uncontrolled mutt, now a respected old dog.

It’s a clip through mid-wicket, a scream of delight fighting its way over the decibels of 30,000 boisterous Indian fans, and several punches in the air with that glorious royal green cap on his head to compliment a century on debut.
It’s the busy rush that hastened a batting collapse and rewarded bowling figures of six wickets for nine runs.

It’s the pull through square leg on the last ball before lunch in his first Test in front of home fans at Brisbane.

It’s the patrolling of cover point next to Andrew Symonds; the catches, the stops, the run outs, the theatrics, the energy.

It’s this boyish youth amongst a dominating army of aging modern cricketing greats, driving fast cars, a diamond ear stud, spiky blonde hair, flash restaurants, thumping nightclubs, the Arabic scripture tattoo, a Slazenger bat sponsorship and the dream girlfriend.

Then it was the getting out, the getting dropped, the getting recalled, and the getting dropped again.

Then it was becoming a figurehead for everything that Australia supposedly wasn’t. The brash enthusiasm became arrogance, the youthful cheekiness enticed intolerance.

Then it was the run-ins with bloke’s blokes like ‘Katto’ (Simon Katich). ‘Haydos’ (Matthew Hayden) thought he was an ungrateful see-you-next-Tuesday and ‘Warnie’ (you know, the guy from the Marshall’s Battery ads?) was no longer his babysitter, grooming into the superstardom lifestyle.

Then it was quitting a tour of New Zealand to tend to that dream girlfriend’s insolence of trusting Brendan Fevola with a camera phone in a bathroom setting.

Then it was unseating ‘Punter’ (Ricky Ponting) as the captain of the Australian Cricket team at it’s lowest ebbs in two decades, and his announcing as the captain of the Australian cricket team being about as welcome to the Australian public, as a fart in a space suit.

An excitable, bubbly, clearly talented cricketer who burst on the scene at 22 into a cricket team with the average age of 32, and embraced the nickname, ‘Pup’.

Who knew that a nickname and its evolutions, could so clearly detail one’s man rise, fall, then second rising and imminent final bow?

The second rising of Michael John Clarke came from so many low points with glitters of resurgence that were hushed back down by an unrelenting and, at times, unappreciative cricketing public.

At one stage, a national newspaper apologised to Clarke on behalf of the public four years ago. But now that Clarke’s end is nigh as at some stage tonight, or in the wee hours of tomorrow morning while Australia sleeps, it’s this same public that is divided on what the outgoing captain of the Australian cricket team could, would or should be remembered for.

Let’s go back. It was the start of the career that was so tantalising.

Clarke – then known, and probably eternally, as ‘Pup’ – strode out to bat in Bangalore, India, a place where Australians, in the past and the present, have had their Test careers spun into a daze and hung out to dry.

Against Zaheer Khan, Anil Kumble and Harbajhan Singh, where his colleagues saw minefields and hand grenades that spun, bounced, stayed low and bamboozled, ‘Pup’ saw runs. 151 of them in fact. On debut if you don’t mind.

Australia went on to win the series – the first in India for years and years. The year was 2004. We’ve never won there since, and look about as likely Bronwyn Bishop accepting a gift voucher for helicopter ride this coming Christmas.

Then he came home to Brisbane, took the New Zealanders to task to become the first batsman in history to score a Test century on both overseas and home soil debuts.

Michael Clarke could bowl, bat, field, smile, and jag Lara Bingle. As an 11-year-old, I thought he could lecture on the subject of Life 101.

He was young. He was the prototype for young cricketers. The cricket apparel company Slazenger picked him up and brought out Michael Clarke bats. I wanted to bat like ‘Pup’, bowl left arm off-breaks like ‘Pup’, field like ‘Pup’ and tie down a fit bird like ‘Pup’.

Sadly the latter went as successfully as the pursuits of bowling with my left hand. We’ll leave that there…

The point is this: Michael Clarke was the idol for young cricketers, with confidence and talent to boot.

But as is the way society can be puppeteer-ed by the media’s influence as we consume the printing press’ content like a 4am McDonalds quarter pounder, Clarke fell out of form and favour.

The losing of wickets just before a break, the hitting the ball in the air to fielders, heightened the criticisms to the point that we felt like when ‘Pup’ made dig-deep centuries, the cricketing public felt that was the least they were owed.

As the aged champions ‘Pup’ started his career playing under retired, ventured into the media and discovered a thing called ‘hindsight’, things continued to unravel while Clarke took the leadership reign.

Then with the Australian public’s hatred, no bat sponsor and an experienced, touring Indian side wanting to rub salt into the wound staring him in the face, Clarke let his sticker-less bat do the talking.

A triple century, two double centuries and another hundred just for good measure. A 4-0 home whitewash. The Sydney Morning Herald’s apology.

The wheel was starting to turn, before a trip back to India jammed the revolution and sent proceedings the other way.

Big series losses in India and South Africa, a third Ashes campaign loss in England (out of four, and his first of two as captain) and it was back to square one.

A return home ashes series had everyone ironically predicting a 5-0 whitewash in favour of the touring Poms, after consecutive series defeats, including a home series 3-1 loss for the first time in three decades back in 2010-11.

A summer later, Australia played England 13 times across the Test, One-Day and Twenty20 formats, for a result of 12 wins and one loss. Clarke had the respect back.

But for all these trials, tribulations and periodic celebrations, nothing came close to the tragedy of Phillip Hughes.

10 years had passed since the ‘Pup’ had made a debut in India. He’d outgrown the nickname to be known as ‘Clarkey’ and was starting to outgrow his personality of being a ‘mutt’ in the eyes of everyone outside of the cricket team he was leading.

While Victorians submitted votes for their next premier, cars slowed, televisions were turned right up and people stood to listen, watch and take in Michael Clarke at his most vulnerable.

This pup and one-time mutt, was now an old dog, with sad, old eyes and breaking voice for someone who had long barked with confidence.

The press conference and eulogy was the mark of a man representing his own heartache, Hughes’ family’s despair and Australia’s hollow anguish at losing a man so young to an incident so cruelly infrequent.

Unlike Tony Abbott, when a leader was required for a nation in grievance, Michael Clarke stood up.

It was hard, it was tear-jerking, it was moving, but it was done.

Just as impressive was the hundred made after retiring hurt to a troublesome back with a broken heart and severely limited technique. It was classic Clarke in strength of character, but not by any means vintage Clarke in aesthetic.

Captain-in-waiting Smith made a century with Clarke and celebrated calmly, creating everlasting of raising his bat to the sky while standing on the grass-painted 408 – Hughes’ test number – on the Adelaide Oval. Clarke could barely walk through the two runs that took him past three figures, but his face as he accepted the applause of the Adelaide crowd spoke volumes.

His greater reward would be lofting the 2015 Cricket World Cup in his own backyard; all the while his own countrymen continued to vulture his and his teammates’ shortcomings.

Captains of sports teams will be forever remembered by their legacy they left behind. For all the shortcomings that Clarke may have had playing beneath former teammates, the teammates he led well have the enduring memory of Clarke as the leader when all around collapsed.

To think any less is to fall in line with society’s view that our judgement of people can be subjective to individual wants and needs, plus Australia’s tall-poppy syndrome and eager search for the negative.

Tonight, Australia will officially hand over the Ashes; Michael Clarke will hand in the captaincy, put down his Baggy Green and take off the black armband embroidered with the initials PH for the last time.

In the narrow view of things, Clarke will bow out on a winning note.

In the bigger picture, Clarke will bow out as a battler who fought every battle, on-field and off-field, in the search to be ‘great’ and the best he could possibly be.

To scale levels of ‘greatness’, and where the young 'Pup', turned battle-hardened old dog, sits will divide pub talk, couches and the Channel 9 cricket commentary team.

From the young kid that once wanted to be you, Michael: congratulations on what you wanted to achieve, sorry for what we thought you should have achieved, and thank you for what you did achieve.

Monday, 3 August 2015

A stranger's response to Kate's chronicles.

“Courage is more exhilarating than fear and in the long run it is easier. We do not have to become heroes overnight. Just a step at a time, meeting each thing that comes up, seeing it is not as dreadful as it appeared, discovering we have the strength to stare it down.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

I don’t know Kate Harcourt.

You probably don’t know her either.

But I know her story. And if you don’t, I recommend you do.

Early December, Kate was a mother of three, a loving wife with boundless enthusiasm an endless passion for her children’s growth and nurturing, directing her to press pause on her teaching career.

It’s mid-July. Kate is still a mother of three, a loving wife and still possesses an endless passion for her children’s growth and nurturing.

But the boundless enthusiasm is a work in progress and teaching career is still on pause.

Plans for a trip to China have also been on hold, as Kate, back in December, felt ready to welcome 2015 with fresh hopes and aspirations.

On December 9, in the shower and mid-scrub, Kate’s world turned upside-down in the form of a lump beneath her right armpit.

Some questions in this world, you’ll never get answered; it’s answers to complex, too significant for our insignificant minds to process.

You just accept the sun means day and the moon and stars mean night.

You accept that a smile means joy and tears means it hurts. Most of the time.

I don’t accept cancer. I don’t accept that for all the villainous, unmotivated, hate-driven people in the world, it seems that it’s always the good ones who this infuriating disease seems to always infect.

But for this unwillingness to accept; stubbornness is quickly overshadowed by realism, much like Kate’s life became blanketed by a disease that is only superficially understood by the other half of men and other two thirds of women, who’ve been pigeonholed by statistics not to be affected by cancer.

It’s a word and a disease that sends a shiver down our spine before we investigate its aggressiveness, location and severity.

I remember sitting in the school theatrette in Year 12 and being numbed by my English teacher, Rosanna Comastri’s announcement that she had developed cancer.

I remember sitting in the Carlton Football Club theatrette just a year later when Sam Rowe forgot pre-planned jokes, and fought back tears to tell teammates – grown men he’d just met – that he’d development cancer.

Both Rosanna and Sam are alive and well. Rosanna has continued pursuing her passion for education and the spiritual development of young men and women. Sam is in the leadership group at Carlton and shies away from descriptions of being labelled ‘courageous’.

For something that I don’t have first-hand experience of – and I hope I never happen to – both of these two and, in my most recent observation, Kate, carry ‘courage’ in spades.

Three weeks following the confirmation of her worst fear, Kate put pen to paper. Not to wallow, not labour in self-despair, but to recall, and to give a helping hand.

Kate’s blog Cancer Cans is (currently) a blow-by-blow journal-like depiction of her eight-month journey of a woman who has witnessed hell and is passing through customs, on her way back to her normal life.

A keen writer with an eye for detail and a no-holds-barred excellence for description, Kate takes you on an expedition that is well-researched in its explanation, light-hearted in its prose, raw in its honesty and contains an open-endedness at the conclusion of each blog post that leaves you wanting more.

It’s not the voyeuristic curiosity of an audience reading Confidential, it’s Kate’s ability to bring the audience into her world where the reader is taken through every road bump and every minor celebration. Each experience carrying as much weight as the next.

Almost 16,000 Australians – men and women – have been diagnosed with breast cancer already in 2015, with a six per cent figure losing their battle.

Kate’s story could just as easily dissolve into the many other cases of the hideous disease. But it’s the want to vocalise the trials, tribulations, roadblocks and celebrations, plus the motivation to provide support for those who have suffered a similar fate – in first- or second-hand experience – that makes her tale stand out.

Just as momentous is the establishment of the charity in her name, Something For Kate – a not-for-profit foundation set up by school friends with the backing of independent brands, the National Breast Cancer Foundation and Australian singer-songwriter, Kate Cebrano.

The foundation was set up at the beginning of this year by Kate’s school friends, empowered to raise funds for the support of her family and the contribution to funding research for breast cancer.

In a week where human compassion was tested on a national scale, no such doubts could be raised over the values of Kate’s support network.

On Sunday 11 October, Something For Kate will come together for gala fundraising luncheon.

Kate’s latest blog posts detail the overwhelming emotion she feels at the deserved generosity being directed her away, as well as continuing to embark on her road to recovery involving doing the things that were taken away from her for the best part of six months.

The opening line to her last post – just as much as her story – poses an energising question to all of us who can feel rutted by this weathered path that is life: when was the last time you did something for the first time?

So Kate, from someone who does not know you, but knows your story, thank you.

This may not be on behalf of all breast cancer sufferers, but on behalf of someone who can feel like the world is against them from time to time.

It’s not over until it’s over, and for Kate – strong in character and articulate in her fight – ‘over’ is still a long way away.

The Something For Kate Gala Luncheon will be held at Maia waterfront restaurant, Central Pier Docklands on Sunday, October 11. Tickets include a live auction and live entertainment Kate Cebrano, plus a two-course lunch and three-hour beverage package. For full information on ticketing and the event, contact Rebecca 0405 099 938 or Kerry 0403 608 467.

Thursday, 30 July 2015

Where the fuck are you, Tony?

I’m sure many of you have heard the phrase, ‘it starts from the top’.

Every man and his dog has had his or her say on the Adam Goodes debate from the bar down at the local, those who sit opposite you at the dinner table, commentators, fellow athletes to downright ‘pillocks’.

And yes I am looking at you Miranda, and Alan, and Rita, and Griffin (hideous name) and Jason. Surprised Dawn Fraser hasn’t found her way onto The Today Show as well…

Everyone’s had their say. All except one. And he’s a pretty notable one.

He’s the man that views living in remote Aboriginal communities as a “lifestyle choice” that Australian taxpayers shouldn’t have to subsidies.

He’s the man at the forefront of this egotistical fear that refugees are better off towed back to the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

He’s the man that presented Goodes with his Australian of the Year award just over six months ago.

Ringing any bells? Where the fuck are you, Tony?

The Closet Recluse will be the first to admit his knowledge of the political landscape is not one to be sought after for the latest university paper, however the month of May was a shocker for Abbott.

Unapologetically distancing himself from the Aboriginal community, his hubris that is his refusal to double-back over his inability to converse in unscripted conversation has provided further examination in recent times appropriating our societal argument that Australia is a racist nation.

The Closet Recluse is hesitant to join the chorus of labelling Australia a racist country, in much the same way that there were shouts of Islam as an extremist-terroris treligion almost 10 months ago.

In the growing age of digital and free media, it is the longevity and duration of the behaviour of booing Adam Goodes that is arguably uglier than the act itself. One cannot recall such divide on a sporting issue that has segregated social media forums, bar-stool banter and dinner-table conversation as we seem to have meta-morphed both sides of the coin into two tennis players hitting perfectly-executed forehands from opposing sides of different tennis courts.

As Tim Minchin said to a graduating Arts class at the University of Western Australia once: “Be hard on your opinions. After all, opinions are like arseholes – everyone’s got one.”

He would go on to say that opinions could somewhat significantly from arseholes in that yours should be closely and thoroughly examined.

I have spoken to, listened to, and sought the opinion of good people who adamant racism is alive and well.

I have also spoken to, listened to, and sought the opinion of good people who are hesitant to weigh in to the debate, for fear of being labelled a racist.

For want of a better word, the argument has appeared distinctively – and perhaps, rightfully – black and white.

First and foremost, people are angry.

While not in agreement, but attentive by way of understanding, there are those who are angry because they feel they are being judged by a Rene Descartes-like philosophy of “I boo, therefore I am a racist”.

Daniel Harford on SEN put it this way on Wednesday: “What I have understood very clearly over the last few weeks is that sport fans don’t like being told what to do or how to behave as sport fans, particularly when they feel like they haven’t done anything wrong.”

The systemic behaviour ‘Harf’ alludes to, can be referenced back to Genesis when Eve ate the fruit God told her not to eat. Curiosity and risk is as autonomous in human make-up as indifference. By now, it’s quite blatantly clear that hate and love are developed characteristics, requiring constant attention yet influenced by their surrounding environment.

But for people who fall on this side of the coin, please know that this is not okay. This is not right. This is not a get-out-of-jail-free card. This is certainly not sound justification.

Granted ‘booing’ has been a part of sport for a long time. But behind ‘booing’, there is always a context.

Adam Goodes has not changed clubs, chased money, fucked a teammates’ wife or murdered a member of his family.

The treatment of Adam Goodes has been high-profile and very public bullying.

I’m sure in school many of you also learned that standing by and watching the bullying take place is just as bad as the bullying itself. This can certainly be referenced to ‘booing’.

While you, the boo-er, mightn’t use words like ‘ape’ or phrases like ‘get back to the zoo’, you’re participating in an activity that has race and derogatory origins. You’re not putting him off his game; you’re putting him off THE game.

Australian Rules football is in a very real actuality that Goodes will leave the game with the sweetness of a packet of Sour War Heads confectionery.

Unfortunately, Goodes has become the pawn on a chessboard between two kings with dichotomous representations of their differing agendas, refusing to let pawn be.

No one’s perfect – even Chris Judd had his flaws, which TCR felt compelled to look past.

But this latest issue has become a pretty clear-cut case of what Sue says about Sally, says more about Sue than it does Sally.

In this case, it is about what Tony Abbot hasn’t been able to say. And the silence is deafening.

To have schooled at Riverview College – the same as Abbott – leaves me disgusted that someone who learned the equivocal values I did in their formative years has been cast to the wayside.

Where Australia has needed leadership and direction, all we have found is a patron.

Where Australia has needed education and reconciliation, all we have found is a disciple to the darker values of our country’s history.

Where Australia has needed the Prime Minister to stand up, all I’ve found is a diminutive, smug, weak little man who I wouldn’t trust to walk my dog.

All I have found, Miranda, is a fucking ‘pillock’.

And that’s the most disappointing thing of all.

Monday, 6 July 2015

Short-term gain for long-term pain.

How far are YOU willing to go?
I don’t know if they had them in your classrooms at high school. Those posters.

How much are YOU willing to sacrifice?

It was usually an A3-sized print with a capitalised, bold-font caption, beneath an image of a 100-metre sprinter pushing his head in front of his competitors at the finish line. Or a squirrel dragging a nut twice its size. Or a shadowed figure alone on his college basketball court, hands on knees, sweat dripping from him.

What would YOU give up?

It was the latter of those that got to me. It was usually partnered with the line, “A champion is an athlete who succeeds when no one else is looking.”

If YOU fail, try again…
If YOU fail, try AGAIN…

If I could fucking rip those posters off the wall now, I would.

On Friday, a man’s narrow, possessive, dichotomous pursuit for excellence and success, left him dead at the hands of his son’s torture of being the sacrificial lamb.

Drug-induced, mind-altered motives borne out of hatred. It’s the wonderment of where did it all go so wrong that, for mine, is the bigger tragedy than the fact that Phil Walsh is no longer with us on Earth.

22 years on this planet has taught me the notion of love is often the devotion to your other, sometimes to the detriment of one’s own better health.

I envision that when that love extends to a responsibility like parenthood, the gap between better judgement and biased piety can be cataclysmic. A drive to ensure that your offspring are born, raised and grow up in circumstances better than you, the provider, experienced yourself.

But in the most heinous of circumstances, ambition meets individualism with fatal consequences.

To pigeon-hole such ambitions to the sporting sector would be flippant – my own parents, medical professionals, had let their work dictate their life for the opening eight years of my own. But, it is easy to witness the link.

Sporting coaches are dichotomous creatures; teachers to the players, yet students to the sport.

It consumes them – the desire to be better, and then be the best. At what cost?

The blinkers are up; whether it’s researching the analogies and parallels that Japenese linguistics might align with the sport. A sport (and a job) that’s already taken up 70 hours of your week before you’ve factored in time to sleep and exercise and eat.

Society has foiled into an instantaneous web of results-based focus. No one will stand up and clap for how many hours have gone in, as long as the outcome is positive.

No one, except the people who love you, and whom you are, in turn, supposed to love.

Does the nature for you, the consumed individual, to busy yourself with priorities and to-do lists, numb you to the collateral damage your absence as a father, mother, role model might incur?

To be civil: think of the children!

You only needed to watch the Channel Seven half time feature on interim Carlton coach John Barker last Saturday night. His eldest daughter, not much older than the same age I was when my parents decided to ascertain the life balance between provider and parent.

He’s good, but he’s away for most of the day, which is a bit annoying.

Charli Barker is the innocent version of Cy Walsh. Only actions differentiate them. Quite substantially, too, obviously.

The Walsh family case is extreme, but will it be the platform for which a lesson can be learnt?

There are elite sporting level coaches in the current environment today with callous, fractured and possibly unrepairable relationships with their children.

It is the fractured ones that have seen children bear the brunt of their parent’s singular initiative, but they dare not speak up. They dare not hurt feelings.

They dare not finger point; citing marriage and family breakdowns and laying great effect. Is this in turn the part where the ‘affected generation’ look to their kin, determined to provide them a better childhood than the one they were offered.

So what lessons will be learned from Phil Walsh being stabbed to death by his own son?

Friday was sad, tragic, but will live on very vividly for every Australian who woke up, fumbled for their phone or tablet and read the fateful, chilling headline.

I can only imagine the playback of horror for Meredith Walsh as she witnessed the ordeal unfold, or to Quinn – who is my age – who had heard the news second-hand. And of course, what next for Cy.

In this competitive world, supported by the theoretical parameters of ‘survival of the fittest’ in a physical, social and professional landscape, the desire to succeed and willingness to win will remain prevalent.

But ‘win’ what, in the great race of life…

Thursday, 25 June 2015

How to deal with keyboard warriors, Karyn Bailey-style.

Nothing will ever give you more satisfaction when you achieve, after being told, “you can’t”.

People are entitled to opinion and perception, the latter; a subjective form that contorts a reality into an objective form to make us believe that that is true.

So when you, as an individual, deform another individual’s already-deformed belief so that you, in this case, an athlete, had the willpower, the talent and the execution to achieve your goal, it’s the rush of endorphins that can’t make you do anything but smile.

On Thursday night, that was Melbourne Vixens shooter Karyn Bailey.

The 29-year-old had just tied with Vixens defender, English international and three-time recipient of the award, Geva Mentor, and claimed a joint Sharelle McMahon Medal as the Melbourne Vixens’ most valuable player.

You often find in sports that role-players can be much-maligned members of the team.

They are, after all, there to perform a specific job. Their assessment is harsh; it’s either a pass or fail – there is no middle ground.

In the fledgling years, Karyn was a ‘role player’.

A shooter that sat on the Melbourne Vixens bench behind names such as Caitlin Thwaites and the much-revered Sharelle McMahon. Both players are Australian representatives and bloody good ones at that; the latter has a medal attached to her name.

Tall and with a no-holds-barred presence in the goal circle, Australian netball fans have always found at least one way to critique Karyn.

Too slow. Doesn’t cover enough court. Can’t shoot. Can’t shoot under pressure. Doesn’t work with her teammates up the court. Not fit enough.

Throw every negative at Karyn, she’s probably heard it. Her skin’s as thick as elephant hide, and she’s taken every hit of every keyboard warrior “advice” and kept moving forward.

Thursday night’s award was for them. Complimented with a quiet, two-finger salute.

Karyn’s career at Melbourne as shooter revolved around her getting court time when Sharelle McMahon wasn’t on the court.

Anyone who knows anything about netball will know that trust and fluency in combinations is vital to the team, all over the court. This doesn’t rub off when it comes to the goaling combination. The aim of the game at the end of the day is to put the ball in the bottom of the net more times than your opposition. Simples.

Finally, Sharelle retired in 2013. Karyn had just started making the goal shooter bib her own, then the Vixens announced that long-serving, Australian-representing shooter, Cath Cox, was coming to Melbourne.

Round 1, 2014 began, and yet again Karyn sat on the bench. A quarter went by, the Vixens dominated and the second quarter began.

The second term was a little bit more of a struggle and whether it was by design or a lack of patience, Vixens coach Simone McKinnis called Cath off the court, took the GS bibs off her and stuck them on Karyn.

Of the remaining 58 quarters of the Vixens’ premiership season, Karyn would play in 50 of them.

Karyn Bailey was keeping one of Australia’s best goal shooters on the pine. Where were the nay-sayers? Everywhere.The talk wasn’t so much pro-Cath either, it was just a running commentary of why Karyn wasn’t good enough.

For an insider, it was totally unjustified.

No one saw the behind-the-scenes work to keep her knee functioning with a posterior cruciate ligament hanging by a thread. No one saw the work done to keep Karyn on court when the ligaments in her ankle were screaming for a rest.

There was no complaints, no fuss and by June 22, Karyn Bailey was an ANZ Championship premiership player and an Australian Diamonds camp invitee.

Yet still the commentary was there and it was there right through the off-season and into the pre-season when the Vixens acquired veteran NSW Swifts Carla Dziwoki and Karyn herself was missing from a Vixens family day function, looking after her ankle.

Rightly or wrongly, the spotlight in the Vixens’ goaling circle belonged to Tegan Philip, who’d come off one of the years of her life. A surprise Diamonds squad member, who played a pivotal role in Australia’s Commonwealth Games gold medal in Glasgow last year.

For the Vixens, a year that started promisingly, crashed hard. Yet, Karyn emerged from the ashes, with former critics in the media changing their tune to describe her as “one of the calmest shooters in the competition”.

Another Diamonds camp invite; and now the talk from the people that mattered shifted as to whether Karyn could even knock off Thwaites and West Coast Fever’s Caitlin Bassett for the goal shooter position.

What about the talk from the rest of the public? Still unchanged.

Mid-season, Karyn notched up her 50th ANZ Championship. The Melbourne Vixens Twitter account asked its adoring fans: what is your favourite highlight of Karyn’s career to date?

The response? “Nothing”. “There hasn’t been one”. “I don’t think she’s very good”.

Karyn’s response? She shot 41 goals from 43 attempts in her milestone match and nearly doubled over in laughter when she read the responses.

It takes us to Thursday night. As much as Karyn’s receiving of the 2015 Sharelle McMahon Medal was to her support network from friends, family, coaches and teammates, there was a lot of it that was her silent, action-orientated response to those who’ve tried to bring her down.

Yes, she was overlooked for the Australian Diamonds side to play in this year’s Netball World Cup, and make no mistake, the ultimate dream of representing her country burns strong.

But Thursday night’s recognition is a step forward to earning the respect she deserves. From a knockabout girl of the Northern Territory, to the darling of the Melbourne Vixens.

What to next? Watch this space.

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

The Chris Judd I knew.

It’s 6.30am on a Wednesday morning at then-VISY Park, back in 2012.

I remember it being a Wednesday because it was my third day as a professional footballer.

I remember it being half-six in the morning because it was my fourth day living in Melbourne, with little idea of time, distance, speed or Melbourne traffic city-bound on the Eastern Freeway.

It was also daylight savings too. The VISY Park paddock only partially illuminated by the lights of our facility; all else was as dark as a funeral scarf.

Arriving at this time at the club would soon become habit, but on this occasion as I put my bag in my locker amid a silent facility, I was acutely aware that I was probably the only one in at this stage.

The rest of the players weren’t expected at the club until 8am, to ready ourselves for the main mid-week training session beginning at 10am.

After a bit of pacing, the only light I saw in the whole place came from the rehab room. The human hubris of curiosity drew me to the room, and upon entering found Chris Judd on a Pilates reformer, receiving instructive guidance from Carlton Rehabilitation Coordinator, Mark Homewood.

After the initial surprise of seeing the 18-year-old NSW Scholarship Holder rookie at the club before the sun had surfaced the Legends Stand, Chris invited me to join him.

What ensued in the next hour and a bit is what I will remember Chris Judd for.

Today’s press conference and announcement bore the scene more of a funeral and a man serving up his own obituary.

The fishbowl-hysterical-passionate nature of the football world heightens the retirement to define that we have lost Chris Judd. Make no mistake. Chris Judd was and forever will be a champion footballer.

Achievements, achievements, premiership, achievements, achievements. A Hall of Fame induction is a certainty. I look forward to Chris holding court at the awards night and charm the room like ‘Plugger’ Lockett when he too is rightfully acknowledged a “Legend.”

The awards confirm what we already knew from the five-goal half against Brisbane, to the Norm Smith Medal performance in a losing Grand Final, to his two Brownlow years.

But Chris would scold me in his laconic, laugh-out-loud kind of way if even for one second I thought his retirement to be some sort of “end”.

As we lay on the Pilates reformers back in 2012, working our way through the exercises, Chris and I conversed.

Being 18 and stupid (only my age has changed) all I wanted to talk about was football.

Chris wanted to talk about everything else. Family, school, moving states, different sports, music, current affairs.

He also gifted me a nickname that has stuck for the past four years, “Lodgenator”.

The only slightly football-related topic we spoke of was the lesson that I took away from the whole conversation: you have your few hours a week of switching on, but remember what made you want to be where you are.

Football – after all the layers of fireworks, hovercrafts, talkback radio shows, fans, opinions and finances are stripped away – is just a game.

From there on, his aura evaporated and the Chris Judd I know is – yes, a good footballer, but more – a good person.

I spent 12 months as a teammate-colleague of Chris Judd’s. The closest I got to pulling on the jumper with him was the team photo day.

But the time spent off the track in the rehabilitation room or on the massage table – him for week-to-week preparation, me for the latest injury drama, both of us out of necessity – ensured that I came to know Chris in a light far away from those who simply lauded him for a hard ball get, or goal on the run.

Chris is well read, approachable, always inquisitive and reserves judgement. Those four are great human qualities rarely found anywhere in this day and age, let alone in a footballer.

When it came to football-related things, Chris was always able to communicate things to me in a simplistic, but intellectual way. I understood more when he spoke than when others (the coach) did.

Chris, as a leader, emphasised the process more than the outcome. In team meetings, he would preach ‘standards’.

There was little fanfare in the way he played the game. While he was explosive in speed, rarely was any form of celebration visible beyond that iconic squint, white mouthguard agape, sucking in all the air he could muster.

The shying away from public attention was no more apparent than when Chris made his return to football mid-way through last year for the Northern Blues in the VFL.

It would be the second match Chris had played in a game that wasn’t at AFL level since his drafting. His last one, a 20-disposal, four-goal performance performance for East Perth is now engrained in Royals’ folklore: “This is Chris Judd, take a look at him now. Because you’ll never see him play in the WAFL again.”

It would be Chris Judd’s VFL debut. Against Sandringham – a team he’d had small dealings with in his TAC Cup years with the Dragons.

The Northern Blues squad and Chris trained the night before at VISY Park. For such a decorated player of Chris’ ilk training on a weekday night, with semi-professional footballers and homemade soup post-training, it was almost comical.

Northern Blues coach Luke Webster introduced him as tomorrow’s VFL debutant, asked Chris to tell the group a little bit about himself, and then Chris trained.

It was the mark of the man, who didn’t see himself to be above kicking the football with university undergraduate students, apprentice electricians and school teachers.

I watched Chris train. After he finished he approached me and we chatted for 15 minutes like old friends. Me asking the slightly loaded questions of how his body was tracking, how was he feeling about Saturday. Him asking how university was going, how my own football was going, plans for holidays.

Chris’ VFL debut drew almost 5,000 fans to VISY Park the following day. Journalists, camera crews, standoffish Carlton fans who didn’t know the Northern Blues even existed, rolled in.

Chris wanted two things. To get through the game unscathed, and to win. Both things eventuated.

And even though there was obvious and drug-like glee as 21 other teammates showered the 30-year-old in Powerade, as he sang the song arm-in-arm with current Northern Blues player, Jordan Perry, Chris wanted to be away from the circus of glowingly, admiring fans and prurient media.

Chris was much more at ease when he was with the people who knew the processes he had to navigate through to make it to the next game, the next contest, the next day.

Socially, he would laugh the loudest and the longest. An endearing quality for someone whose name often precedes his personality.

His humour and his wit was dry and smart. Conversations sitting next to him at lunchtimes regularly had me and those around him in stitches.

For the four years I’ve now known Chris, the mark, the landing, the facial expression of screwed-up agony was numbing to watch on Saturday.

I’m sorry Chris, but this was an ‘end’. The sun rose the next morning and life went on, but the news kept playing the sickening incident over and over again as speculation grew about whether this was, in footballing verbatim, “the end”.

Fucking knees.

As you delivered the words to bring the curtain down on your footballing career, I hope the Adelaide Crows’ supporters standing ovation, a show of unity that the fishbowl-hysterical-passionate nature of the football world is capable of, did not come as a surprise to you.

You are a respected man, Chris. Footballer, you were great. Human being, you are and will continue to be great.

So, thank you.

Thank you for that time when I was 14 years old in the rooms, had just become a NSW Scholarship Holder at Carlton, and you went away from the training group, shook my hand and asked me my name.

Thank you for that Wednesday morning Pilates session and the other sessions from then on.

Thank you for introducing me to the TV Series, Game of Thrones.

Thank you for the nickname. Sort of.

Thank you for the quick advice when we were on the training track to help me understand.

Thank you for the plethora of laughs.

Thank you for the conversations, both light and deep, especially on the Hong Kong Footy Trip.

And out of the almost 300 teammates you had at AFL level, thank you for making me feel worth my while from my first day at the club, to when we ran into each other late last week.

Until we meet again, Chris.