AS the Ballarat region enters the final weeks of the football season, players across the region have already begun the commiserations. Too often at these times clubs and players find their way into the news for the wrong reasons.
While the culture may have changed at the elite AFL level in recent years, the tragic death of Port Adelaide player John McCarthy is a stark reminder that no person is immune from the vagaries of life.
Until a full police investigation is completed, it is folly to publicly contemplate the circumstances surrounding McCarthy’s untimely death. What it does bring into focus is that the off-season is full of traps for the unwary.
In the 70s and 80s, AFL players could and would get away with just about anything in the post-season. Stories of booze-fuelled footy trips were celebrated, almost lauded. It was a culture.
It was not until the death of Collingwood player Darren Millane, shortly after the end of the 1991 season that attitudes began to change.
Only more recently AFL clubs have employed security and chaperones to players attending so called Mad Monday and off-season celebrations. Players are now better educated about the dangers of mixing alcohol in such circumstances.
Indeed the AFL and, in turn, country leagues, have been responsible for advocating responsibility in alcohol consumption and for clubs and players to take ownership of these issues.
While this attitude has rubbed off in some lower levels, the reality is that country football clubs and players remain at risk during these times. Violence and injuries are an all too common result of binge drinking which often goes hand-in-hand with celebrations.
During the next two weekends, the Central Highland and Ballarat football league seasons will come to a close. The plea to those from the competing clubs and those which have already finished is to stop and think about the consequences of their actions when celebrating.
As we have seen this week, the impact on everyone who is involved in a club situation is significant when a young person, full of life, has it taken away. In a regional or rural environment, it is often intensified.
We laud and celebrate the achievements of our footballers on the field, let’s hope we can do the same for their actions off the field this year.