Home / World News / Sydney Swans defender Paddy McCartin reflects on second coming as an AFL player after rollercoaster journey

Sydney Swans defender Paddy McCartin reflects on second coming as an AFL player after rollercoaster journey

If you heard it, you still remember it.

Paddy McCartin’s harrowing and incredibly frank radio interview on Triple M in mid-2019 – in the months after his eighth and last concussion – was compelling but awfully difficult to hear.

The No.1 draft pick in the 2014 draft, who was taken before Norm Smith medallist Christian Petracca and viewed as Nick Riewoldt’s forward successor at St Kilda, was struggling to watch TV or go to the supermarket.

He barely slept for three months because of severe headaches and any trip outside was a nightmare because of his sensitivity to light and sound.

“I’m a shell of a person that I was,” McCartin said at the time. “I can’t do the basic things.”

Previously, his greatest concern was managing his type one diabetes as an elite athlete and living up to mighty expectations as the dux of his draft class.

There was impatient media commentary wondering when McCartin, who kicked 34 goals in 35 games for the Saints between 2015-18, was going to realise his potential.

Suddenly, none of that meaningless footy stuff mattered, because McCartin was fighting for normality.

Few people who listened that day expected him to play football again. How could they? Surely, his parents and loved ones would lead an intervention?

The truth was very different.

“They just wanted me to do what made me happy, whether that was footy or not,” McCartin told News Corp ahead of his fairytale round 1 return with the Swans, alongside his younger brother Tom.

“They probably saw me through 2019 and how I was when footy specifically got taken away, but also a few other things in my life, and what that did to my general health and wellbeing and mental health.

Swans train
Camera IconPaddy McCartin (left) will play his first AFL match in almost four years on Saturday for new club Sydney alongside his brother Tom. Phil Hillyard Credit: Supplied

“I got to a point where the decision was made that footy was what I wanted to do and that gave me a real sense of purpose to get back and train and get fit again and have another go.

“That purpose was something that was really critical after I started to feel a bit better, and gave me a real sense of direction. My parents, my family and my partner were all really happy with that.”

McCartin didn’t play any football in 2019 after his pre-season setback, then came to a mutual agreement with St Kilda to be delisted at the end of that year.

In between, he consulted doctors in Melbourne and even flew to Chicago to attend a medical facility that specialises in neurological rehabilitation, including concussion management.

McCartin also sat out the 2020 season to get his health back on track.

There is still so many unknowns about concussions but the turning point for McCartin was multiple specialists saying he wasn’t more conducive to a brain injury than anyone else playing a contact sport.

They were satisfied despite his repeat concussions that he hadn’t sustained long-term damage.

“That gave me a lot of comfort and was a real driving factor in me wanting to get back and give it another go,” McCartin said.

Plenty of AFL recruiters touched base with McCartin and his management throughout 2020 but none was willing to draft him at year’s end, especially with the Covid-19 pandemic triggering smaller list sizes.

He instead signed with Sydney’s VFL team and transformed into a defender.

The results were spectacular as he gobbled up marks and won possessions at will before joining the Swans on the road when the pandemic struck Sydney at its worst last year.

There was genuine belief that McCartin might find a home at the mid-season draft until an infamous incident where he struck ex-AFL footballer Aaron Black twice in an ugly off-the-ball incident.

A five-match ban followed and significant condemnation after his own concussion battle.

“Obviously, it wasn’t ideal and it’s not something I look back on and am proud of,” McCartin said.

“But that’s life and I’ve apologised plenty of times for that and hopefully people can see that’s not my character or who I am and it’s just a one-off thing.”

McCartin understood why he didn’t receive a mid-season opportunity and thrived upon being in the Swans’ hub and getting “a taste of that day-to-day footy life again”.

They made him wait until January to officially sign him to their AFL list, via the pre-season supplemental selection period, but he likely knew for sometime it was heading that way.

From being a No.1 draft pick to signed off the scrap heap eight years later is an unusual development but McCartin would have it no other way.

“There’s been so much that’s happened but I wouldn’t change any of it,” he said.

“It’s taught me a lot about myself and I’ve been through a fair bit of stuff and I’ve been able to bounce back from a lot of that and come back and that’s something I’m really proud of.

“The opportunity I have now is great and to be able to play a game this weekend with Tommy is something really special and something I’m looking forward to probably more than anything, to be honest.

“We’ve got a really exciting group here.”

Perhaps, only former Carlton captain Sam Docherty’s return from a second cancer battle will top McCartin’s return as the AFL’s most heartwarming story this weekend or even season.

He is grateful for his family’s unwavering support, his “legend” of a brother and medical experts’ diligence in his recovery and confidence he will be OK in the longer term.

Swans Portraits 2022
Camera IconThe McCartin brothers, Tom and Paddy, will feature in the same Sydney backline against the Giants on Saturday. Phil Hillyard Credit: Supplied

Now McCartin’s comeback game, his first in 1351 days, against the Giants in Sydney Derby XXIII, could also double as the match where superstar teammate Lance Franklin boots goal No.1000.

“He’s a champ, Bud, and his career speaks for itself,” he said.

“There’s nothing that I need to say here that will surprise anyone or teach anyone anything new about him. He’s the man and the stage is all his on Saturday night.

“I’ll just sit at the other end and hopefully have the best seat in the house and watch him bag a big one and hopefully get the milestone.

“I reckon if he’s getting five this weekend, that will hold us in pretty good stead. So fingers crossed he gets it.”

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