Collingwood coach Craig McRae has expressed his pride for Mason Cox after the oft-maligned American’s match-winning turn in the Magpies’ thrilling AFL upset of Melbourne.
The forward-ruck set the MCG alight on the Queen’s Birthday holiday, producing a performance to evoke memories of his famous 2018 preliminary final display against Richmond.
Cox collected 21 possessions and was just one vote away from prolific Melbourne star Clayton Oliver from winning the Neale Daniher Trophy as best-on-ground.
The 31-year-old slammed through an inspiring goal on the run midway through the third quarter, giving him superhero confidence.
Cox then threw himself back into defence to grab two contested marks to help thwart potentially damaging forward-50 entries from the Demons.
The 211cm giant’s future has often been questioned during his 82-game career after arriving in the AFL as a project player from Texas in 2015, aged 24.
Cox had to wait until late October to earn another contract for 2022, and he then found himself sidelined for a month early in the season because of poor form.
McRae was influential in the former US College basketballer’s early rise after working as head of development at Collingwood in 2015.
“I must admit I’m really proud of him,” McRae said.
“I told him how proud I am of him; no secret we go a long way back.
“To see him grow – he’s got a lot of doubters – but he shows he can play at that level when he’s confident and at his best.
“You can see him grow, he just gets taller and taller out there.
“He had a couple of chances in the first (half) that he didn’t quite take, but he’s been really important for us in the past month.”
McRae plans to use Cox more as a ruckman who can pinch hit forward, creating selection headaches when star Brodie Grundy returns from a shoulder injury later in the season.
“I do believe Mason’s a better ruck-forward, than he is a forward-ruck,” McRae said.