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February, 2019

St Kilda forward Ahmed Saad glad to be a Saint again

Hastings: Born-again St Kilda forward Ahmed Saad is finally back on an AFL list and declared on Wednesday he “can’t wait to get into it.”
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The 25-year-old was delisted at the end of 2013 after being banned for 18 months for using an illegal  energy drink. St Kilda selected him with pick 19 in the rookie draft, giving the small forward the chance to resume his 29-game AFL career.

Carlton had shown interest in Saad, who met Carlton coach Mick Malthouse in recent weeks, but when the Blues used their first choice in the draft on teenager Billy Gowers the Saints were free to swoop, allowing Saad to be reacquainted with his old teammates.

“[I’m] absolutely rapt that the Saints showed faith again and there’s nowhere I’d rather be than here,” Saad said on Wednesday after being greeted by Sam Gilbert, Sam Fisher, Farren Ray and Leigh Montagna during a club visit to an aged persons home at Hastings.

“The media talks, there was interest from clubs and up until this morning I had to wait like every other player in the rookie draft and  see when my name got called out,” Saad said.

Having kicked 45 goals across his two seasons at the Saints, Saad offers a handy attacking option for St Kilda, who were heavily reliant on captain and best and fairest winner Nick Riewoldt to kick a winning score in 2014. Riewoldt kicked 49 goals this year, with the now-departed Rhys Stanley the next best at the club with 18.

Though the terms of his ban mean he will not be able to train again with the club until January 1, Saad believes he can work his way up to the senior list and into the Saints’ line-up for the opening-round clash with GWS.

“I’ve come back in good shape and my results have proven that,” he said, “so I’m definitely doing everything I can. I’ve got a personal trainer and he’s got me in really good shape.

“I’ve put in all the hard work on my own, so as soon as I get back with the team it’ll be easier for me to get back with the team and actually train and do everything like that. I’m just going to put me head down and work hard and hope that I can come back and play round one.

“I’ve missed a year of footy, I don’t want to miss any more, so I want to do my best to get back into the team.”

With his 18-month exile for drinking an energy drink containing a banned stimulant all but over, Saad was beaming as he reflected on the difficult journey he had been through since testing positive midway through 2013. He was thankful for St Kilda’s moral support throughout the ban.

“I tried to stay positive, as much as I can, to control everything I can control. What happened happened, and I got banned for it. I just had to cop it on the chin.

“As soon as I found out it was just going to be one season I made sure I put in all the hard work so I could give myself the best chance to come back. Rules are rules and what I did is wrong, but it is what it is.”

St Kilda recruiting manager Tony Elshaug was glad the club had been able to land their man in the rookie draft’s second round, despite the interest from other clubs.

“When we drafted Ahmed three or four weeks ago we were excited then, and we’re just as excited now,” Elshaug said.

The Saints also claimed small midfielder and forward Jack Sinclair, the grandson of former Saint Bill Gleeson, tall utiliy Brenton Payne, the grandson of dual Essendon premiership player Charlie Payne, and rookie-listed veteran Adam Schneider.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

The long march as they say goodbye

Procession: Mourners walk behind the hearse at Phillip Hughes’ funeral in Macksville. Procession: Mourners walk behind the hearse at Phillip Hughes’ funeral in Macksville.
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Procession: Mourners walk behind the hearse at Phillip Hughes’ funeral in Macksville.

Procession: Mourners walk behind the hearse at Phillip Hughes’ funeral in Macksville.

Australia captain Michael Clarke composes himself while speaking at the funeral service of Phillip Hughes. Photo: Reuters

As it happened: our coverage of Phillip Hughes’ funeralThousands farewell Hughes in MacksvilleMegan Hughes’ promise to her brotherMichael Clarke fights back tears in emotional tributeSean Abbott’s toughest day

Only cars heading north along the Pacific Highway for Christmas and the odd stray cow bring traffic to a grinding halt in Macksville.

And so does Phillip Hughes, the son, brother, cousin, best mate, cattle farmer and international cricketer who was laid to rest in his home town on Wednesday afternoon.

We’ve heard it enough times over the past week since his death after an innocuous bouncer hit him in the side of the neck during a Sheffield Shield match at the SCG – that the 25-year-old was a man of the people.

As thousands of mourners fell in line behind the slow-moving hearse carrying his small but prolific frame through the streets of his home town, it truly explained how much.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott walked shoulder-to-shoulder with Australian cricketers past and present, and members of the Hughes family.

The farmers, teachers, tradesmen, nurses – all of the shattered townsfolk of this region – marched alongside members of the Indian cricket team and boxer Anthony Mundine.

Shane Warne and Brian Lara, two giants of the game, wore suits and walked with them. Standing next to Warnie was a local, resplendent in work boots, green fluoro socks and King Gees.

“He was so proud of Macksville,” said Australian captain Michael Clarke. “And it is easy to see now why.”

For an afternoon and night, they were one and the same with household names.

Hughes’ hearse deviated one way. The rest of the throng jammed the nearby pubs or the wake at the Macksville Ex-Servicemen’s Club.

The mood wasn’t sad, but buoyant. You suspect the man of the hour would’ve approved.

The ex-servicemen’s club is a place that rarely draws a big crowds, let alone on a Wednesday.

After the funeral, legendary cricketers mixed with locals at the wake.

Clarke introduced Lara to Hughes’ mum, Vinnie, and then his brother Jason.

Deeper inside the club, Hughes’ teammates raised a glass to their departed mate.

Most of the Australian players had arrived at the service at Hughes’ old high school via bus, and were supposed to leave for the wake the same way.

Their spontaneous decision to walk with the masses down Wallace Street showed how united they have become in grief.

Curiously, one of them was not Clarke, who left Macksville High School driving a 4WD with his wife, Kyly.

Maybe his troublesome left hamstring was the reason. Maybe he wants to play in the first Test in Adelaide, in honour of his fallen mate.

Clarke didn’t have to walk. For much of the past week he has also carried many on his shoulders.

“He would definitely be calling me a sook right now, that’s for sure,” Clarke told more than 1000 mourners inside the hall. “I don’t know about you, but I can’t help looking for him.

He then told us of the moment last Thursday night when he stood on the exact spot on the SCG pitch where Hughes had been felled.

“I stood there at the wicket, I knelt down and touched the grass, and I swear he was with me, picking me up off my feet and checking that I was OK,” Clarke said.

“Telling me to dig in and get through to tea. Telling me off for that loose shot that I played. Chatting about what movie we might watch that night, then passing on a useless fact about cows.

“I could see him swagger back to the other end, grin at the bowler, and call me through for a run with such a booming voice the bloke in the carpark could hear it … His spirit has touched the SCG and it will always be.”

Phillip Hughes chased the definitive Australian dream: of a young bloke from the bush who wanted nothing more than to wear the baggy green.

“Ever since Bradman, the image of the innocent country boy playing in the backyard, while dreaming of wearing a baggy green cap, has become entrenched in our psyche,” said Cricket Australia boss James Sutherland.

“It’s our foundation myth as a cricketing nation – and Phillip lived that dream.”

As mourners sweltered in the hall, Hughes’ cousin Nino Ramunno illuminated the moment a cricketing star first exploded.

It had been at an under-10s game. His older brother Jason needed an extra player for his team.

“No,” was the stern reply from Phillip.

“Wuss,” Jason shot back.

On debut, as a tail-ender, he scored 25 runs and fell in love with the sport.

On the grounds and synthetic pitches near the high school hall and beyond, Hughes became such an emerging talent that Sydney clubs started sniffing.

It was coach Neil D’Costa from Western Suburbs who came with the most ambitious blueprint: to replace an ageing warrior in Matthew Hayden in the Australian Test team.

“Are you ready for it?” D’Costa, the man also responsible for fostering the rise of Clarke, asked him.

Three years later, Hughes made his Test debut against South Africa in Johannesburg.

Throughout it all, Australian players past and present, sat with ashen-faces. The past week has taken its toll.

There was obvious concern and care from so many others for Sean Abbott, who delivered the bouncer in a Shield match that led to Hughes’ death a week ago.

Yet nobody appeared as devastated as another fast bowler, James Pattinson, who clutched at his girlfriend.

On the sporting field, men are supposed to be unbreakable. Off it, they are as fragile as the rest of us.

So what now? Play some cricket. Or at least try to.

“I promise to get on the horse and play the game we love,” assured Jason Hughes. “I will endeavour to be the best player I can be.”

Said Clarke at the end of his emotional eulogy: “We must dig in and get through to tea. And we must play on. Rest in peace, my little brother. See you out in the middle.”

Notwithstanding the ales downed at Macksville’s overflowing pubs, and the wake at the ex-servicemen’s club he once played for, the only thing that eases the pain now is love and time.

Hughes had an abundance of one, but has been cruelly denied the other.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Phillip Hughes’ funeral Sean Abbott’s toughest day

Sean Abbott arrives at Phillip Hughes’ funeral on Wednesday. Photo: Edwina Pickles Sean Abbott arrives at the funeral in Macksville. Photo: Edwina Pickles
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‘I keep looking for him, I know it’s crazy’: Michael Clarke fights through tears as he speaks at the service. Photo: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

As it happened: our coverage of Phillip Hughes’ funeralThousands farewell Hughes in MacksvilleMegan Hughes’ promise to her brotherMichael Clarke fights back tears in emotional tribute

Everyone in Macksville was bracing themselves to farewell Phillip Hughes but, truth be told, they were also there to rally behind Sean Abbott.

Photographers focused on Abbott when he walked down the street towards the school hall where the funeral was held.

He is not a cricketer instantly recognised by the general public, but from the moment Hughes’ family turned off his life support in the most tragic circumstances on Thursday, Abbott’s anonymity perished forever.

The 22-year-old walked off the NSW team bus having sat in the middle section. He was behind Josh Hazlewood, a man with whom he has bowled in tandem numerous times.

Knowing the camera lenses were well and truly fixed on him, he did not falter. Walking slowly down the road to the hall, he knew this would be the toughest battle of his short life and career to date.

Other mourners reached out to shake Abbott’s hand, most notably former Test and one-day cricket dynamo Dean Jones, before he hurriedly walked into the service in the company of his NSW teammates; those who have seen his transformation from an 18-year-old tearaway playing in the Big Bash League alongside his Western Sydney teammate Patrick Cummins, to a reliable workhorse with bat and ball in a baggy blue cap.

His mother, Georgina, and father, Nathan, walked by his side. They have been his rock during the past week, as have dozens of cricketers who have supported each other in these terrible times.

Mr Abbott looked like a father on a mission to support his eldest boy. Mrs Abbott shied away from the cameras, not wanting to deal with the media scrutiny that has resulted from an innocuous short ball delivered by a prodigiously talented young fast bowler.

Abbott’s girlfriend, Brier Neil, was also by his side. She grabbed Abbott’s waist tightly as she walked next to him down Wallace Street, through the Macksville locals and into the sanctuary of the RSL club.

Channel Nine opted against showing vision of Abbott during the service, which was a tremendously respectful move. Simply turning up to the funeral was an incredibly brave act.

We have seen now how it has affected Australia, but spare a thought for Abbott, who has been travelling “surprisingly well”, according to a close friend.

Abbott was tagged in a photo on social media a few days ago smiling. What a welcome relief this is for Australian Cricket.

He has undergone something no 22-year-old should have to, but there is no doubt that tonight, next week and for the rest of his career, he will have the love and support of cricketers and Australians alike.

But first he had to get through a warm day in Macksville, with his mates by his side, before he could look to the future knowing everyone is behind him.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

A case of trading places for Essendon recruit

New recruit: Essendon’s Shaun McKernan. Photo: Josh RobenstoneFootball can be a game of swings and roundabouts. And Essendon, and particularly their new recruit Shaun McKernan, now know a little better just how much.
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In a recruiting story with a nice touch of symmetry about it, the former Adelaide key forward and ruckman on Wednesday was picked up by the Bombers in the rookie draft, having been delisted by the Crows after six seasons and 34 games.

McKernan had effectively been squeezed out of a spot in Adelaide’s best 22 by the rapid emergence of Josh Jenkins, who previously had also been a rookie list player for Essendon, and himself squeezed out of senior contention by too many rivals.

The pair have now effectively traded places. Not that McKernan, publicly unveiled as a Bomber only a few hours after his name had been called, had had time to ponder the irony. “I hadn’t thought about it at all this morning, but now you mention it, I guess it is,” he smiled.

And while Jenkins at this stage clearly has the better of the deal, entrenched on a senior list with a bright future, McKernan, who has spent the past fortnight training with St Kilda, at least has earned another crack at changing that.

“There’s no doubt I’d rather be in his place, but I’m happy to come to a club like Essendon. Look at the amount of big games you get to play. I’m just proud to be part of the club,” he said.

McKernan might also not have quite the same long queue of big men ahead of him for a spot as Jenkins once did.

When Jenkins left Essendon at the end of 2011 without having played a senior game, his path had been effectively blocked by the presence of David Hille, Paddy Ryder and Tom Bellchambers in the ruck, while up forward the Bombers still had hopes for Scott Gumbleton and a couple of promising youngsters in Michael Hurley and Jake Carlisle.

Three years on, the Dons still have plenty of talls, Joe Daniher now an essential part of the mix. But in the ruck, Hille is long retired, Ryder a controversial departure, and Bellchambers coming off an injury-riddled year, with only former Greater Western Sydney’s Jonathan Giles for back-up.

But McKernan knows he is going to have to produce more consistency to grab any opportunity than he did at Adelaide, where by his own admission he was “up and down”.

“I think I had some good moments and bad moments,” he said. “I look back and 2011 was my best year, playing 16 games, and probably since then I’ve just fallen out of the side.

“I think my best is more than capable to play at the level, it’s probably just those patches of bad moments I need to get out of my game. There are things I want to put in place to make sure I can be a better, more consistent player. I know my time is now.”

McKernan is 17 years younger than older brother and dual North Melbourne premiership player Corey McKernan, who he says fully appreciates another touch of irony about his sibling ending up at the Roos’ great foe of the late ’90s and early 2000s.

“As you can imagine, Corey doesn’t have much love for Essendon, but he’s still happy that I’m here,” he said. “He’s just rapt that I’ve got another chance. He said to me: ‘Now you’ve got a second chance, you don’t want to get in this position again. Just make sure you leave nothing unturned and give it everything you’ve got’.”

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

How Hawthorn made its mind up on Langford No.3

This time last year Lachie Langford liked the idea of playing for Hawthorn, but was not sure how it could happen, given he had simply not ever played much football. This time four months ago he was even less certain, having torn ankle ligaments, suffered a stress fracture after being kneed in the back and played only five games for Melbourne Grammar. “There was only one club that would ever have drafted me,” he said, “and even Hawthorn had hardly seen me.”
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The Hawks were watching for a reason – Langford’s last name – but needed to be sure of a number of things before calling his name with their third choice in Wednesday’s rookie draft. First they had to be convinced of his talent and that was difficult, given all of the issues above. But in an early-season game against Xavier College he did well enough for Graham Wright, the club’s list manager, that to have his interest was piqued, taking a couple of nice marks, kicking the ball well and running hard from start to finish.

The club sought extra match vision from the school – happy for people to think it was because they wanted to watch more of Ed Vickers-Willis, a second-round draft pick last week – and had Langford out to the club for a couple of week days in August so that their medical, conditioning and coaching staff could spend a bit of time with him and get a sense of his potential.

They all liked what they saw, which meant another few things had to happen. Hawthorn chose not to nominate Langford as a father-son selection – even as a pre-nominated rookie – because it didn’t want to encourage other clubs to look at and start researching him. It also wanted to be sure that it didn’t commit to choosing him if that meant overlooking another, more certain prospect. “If we were picking him,” said Wright, “it had to be with the right pick. But our guys were happy with what they saw. “He’s grown about five centimetres in the last 12 months, so we think he’ll continue to grow, he’s got a good tank, his speed is OK, he has long arms, he’s strong overhead. He’s athletic, and he’s the sort of kid who wants to achieve, with whatever he’s doing. Looking at him, there was just something there.”

From there, Langford had to decide what he wanted to do. He had always wanted to play for Hawthorn, his desire growing stronger as he watched his brother Will claim his spot in the side, and when he went to the MCG to watch the club win this year’s premiership. But he is also academic, and wanted to finish his final school year with no distractions. In the end, he waited until the day after his last exam – the day draft nominations were due – to drop his form into the AFL offices.

“It wasn’t a really hard decision. I’d always had the dream, but in the past two years as I’ve gotten older and gained a greater awareness of how hard it is to get to AFL level, I thought it was unlikely and I was just not expecting it,” Langford said. “I was hardly playing, I wasn’t sure how they could have assessed me, I’d only done those two sessions at the club and because of my injury history I’d barely played, so it was something I never expected to have to make a decision on.

“My parents wanted to make sure I finished school off without being distracted by footy talk, they’ve always had my best interests at heart, and that was something I wanted to do as well. I still do want to study next year, but it’s every kid’s dream to be drafted and the only thing I had to think about was whether I thought I was ready to do it mentally and physically. I was always going to decide I was, and now that I have, I’m going to put everything that I have into it.”

Grand final day was always in the back of his mind . “Watching William play this year, and succeed, and entrench himself in the team was very good to see, and it made me think that maybe I can do it too,” Langford said. “I started to think seriously about it just as he started to come into his own, and then watching Hawthorn go on to win the grand final was far-and-away the best week of my life. I can’t think of anything I want more now than to go in there and work hard and do everything I can to fulfil my potential as a player. I’m very lucky that I have the chance to do that.”

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.