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Mason Cox would have known most of the words to Good Old Collingwood as he ran out, but only some of Advance Australia Fair, and might have been confused when they played God Defend New Zealand first, anyway. He also might have needed a quick tutorial on how it was not two Australian flags being run up those flagpoles, but one from each Anzac country.
The Last Post would have lost him altogether: something about the final mail run maybe? By then, if he wasn’t so absorbed by the reverence of the moment and the scale of the occasion, he might have had snatches of “Ride ’em Cowboy”, the Oklahoma State song, running through his mind.
“Cowboys a-riding, lassos a-flying, under the western sky.”
For Cox, with his brief, unique history in the game, it is not what you know or not know, but how quickly you learn. The biggest game on the non-final calendar was not two minutes old and Cox was peering into the sunny western sky and must still have been getting his bearings in the vastness of the MCG when he saw Darcy Moore streaming towards him, ball in hand. Whatever else he does not know, he knew this was the moment. He led, Moore hit, Cox’s arms stretching out from his 211-cm frame were far beyond the reach of Michael Hartley, and the ball nestled into his chest. The MCG erupted.
That was part one. Part two was to kick the goal. Two-hundred and eleven centimetres tall, but not from these parts, he has a gangling way about him that does not inspire confidence in his kicking, or maybe it is because he was replacing a man who had grown up steeped in footy and still was mystified by the art. At any rate, Cox went back, lined up, ball perpendicular to boot, and as easily as if making a free throw kicked the ball over the goal umpire’s hat, and 85,000 people erupted again at the improbability of it all, and the Anzac Day game had its most exotic moment yet in its 20-year history; it became, in football terms, ANZUS day.
Cox was mobbed as no World Cup winning scorer ever was; only one Collingwood player didn’t get to him. “Ride, ride, ride, ride, ride ’em Cowboys, right down the field.”
Cox didn’t kick another of the Magpies’ 21 other goals this day. He wasn’t best-on-ground, not nearly. But he did show how much he has learned, and how quickly. He led, he sometimes marked, and if he didn’t mark, he made sure not to be outmarked. He knew where to run, and when, and when not. He made two other goals, one with a flick, the other a handball. He scrambled for the ball at his feet, incurring the risk of bends as he stood up again. He won half-a-dozen hit-outs, hardly Naitanuian, but a ruckman has to start somewhere.
At a time in his career when he could only be expected still to be figuring out the game for himself, he displayed an awareness of how, even when incidental to the play, he might act for the team. He made his presence felt, in a way that Travis Cloke did once, but not for a long time now.
Other than Cox’s debut, there was not much other moral to take out of this day. The result was what could and was expected pre-season, until Collingwood developed the wobbles and Essendon stilled theirs. It became even more than usual on Anzac Day, a game isolated in the fixture. In the first half, the Magpies were exhilarating, but against minor league opposition. The second half was a matter of walking through the drills. The consequences for both clubs will barely outlive the day.
In quieter moments in the second half, Cox would have pinched himself. Maybe he also wondered a little about what precisely was this Anzac spirit. If as part of his learning he was watching Port Adelaide-Geelong on television on Saturday night, he would have heard Joel Selwood aver that it was manifest in the childish melee at quarter-time in that game.
“Fight, fight, fight, fight, fight ’em Cowboys and never yield.”
Ah well, best to get back that funny football and this funny ground and all those masses of funny people, and his funny place in their hearts, and they in his. He had never intended to become an AFL footballer until suddenly he was one. He had never dreamt of playing on the MCG until the first time he saw it. He had never imagined himself as an Anzac Day hero, and yet here he was.
At the final siren, Cox had a long chat with Hartley, and another on camera with a bloke from Channel 7 who he could scarcely have known was a former vice-captain of the team he had just played against, and then lost himself in the throng of happy Magpies. There was no fuss now; he was simply one of them, a contributor, an Anzac Day winner.
“Ride, ride, ride, ride on Cowboys, to victory.”
Good old this team he had not heard of until a couple of years ago.
He knows how to play the game.
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.