John McCarthy (left).
John McCarthy (left). David Crosling

Heart-broken Pies to honour a mate

IT'S rare a team will go out to "play for" someone who has spent the past season with a rival club.

But Collingwood will hope to honour the memory of Port Adelaide's John McCarthy, who died in tragic circumstances in Las Vegas on Sunday, by beating West Coast in their semi-final at the MCG tomorrow night.

McCarthy, 22, spent the first four years of his AFL life with the Magpies after they picked the then baby-faced kid from Sorrento, on Victoria's Mornington Peninsula, in the 2007 draft.

He crossed to Port at the end of 2011 for greater opportunities after struggling to break into the Magpies line-up, but still had a lot of mates at the Lexus Centre and they were heartbroken to learn of his passing.

Vice-captain Scott Pendlebury summed up their situation: "It's something we are not going to get over by the weekend. But at the same time we've got an opportunity to play in a way that J-Mac would have been happy with and the way that he played football - hard-working, hard at the footy - and I'm sure the boys will be wanting to play that way for him."

There was no doubting McCarthy had also made a big impression in a short time at Alberton, too, his skipper making an emotional tribute yesterday.

"John was a ripping guy. I haven't seen a guy come into our club and just fit in with the boys from day one," he said.

While Port and Collingwood have, in many ways, been the face of the tragedy, the heart really goes out to his immediate family, particularly his parents, and his long-time girlfriend. She would be haunted by the call she took from a "confused" McCarthy just a couple of hours before his unfortunate accident.

Let's at least hope a few harsh lessons are learned by what occurred in Vegas.

Clubs might have to look at a similar approach to the one the Western Bulldogs took this year in having their club runner, police officer Stuart Bailey, travel with a group of players on their own end-of-season trip to the US gambling mecca.

The "police escort" was designed to avoid a repeat of the incident in 2010 when a large group of Dogs players embarrassed the club and themselves by acting like "drunken yobbos" in Hong Kong, stopping traffic outside a bar and rolling around on vehicles.

Bailey has, of course, ended up playing a much more serious role as liaison in the McCarthy case between Vegas police and authorities back home.

It has been a week in the AFL like no other, with McCarthy sadly becoming the first current player to have died during a season since the formation of the national competition in 1990.

A week after the 1991 grand final, and on his way to attend the one-year anniversary of Collingwood's 1990 premiership triumph, Darren Millane died in a car accident. The 26-year-old Magpies captain-in-waiting had a blood alcohol reading of 0.322.

Melbourne player Troy Broadbridge was on his honeymoon in Thailand when he lost his life in the December 2004 tsunami. The Demon, who had been recruited from Port Adelaide's SANFL side, was just 24.

West's a force

OF COURSE the show must go on, and while Adelaide and Collingwood will look to avoid a "straight sets" departure from the premiership race this weekend, West Coast and Fremantle will aim to keep alive a dream grand final for WA fans.

The Eagles and Dockers have made it to the penultimate week in the same year only once - in 2006 - and while an all-WA grand final looks a bit of a stretch, both teams progressing to play Sydney and Hawthorn respectively next week is certainly not beyond the realms of possibility, even though they do have to play away this week.

It would complete a remarkable turnaround for the pair, which won just 10 games between them in 2008 and finished behind only Melbourne on the ladder.

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