'What a champion': AFL star's emotional speech after cancer battle

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·Sports Reporter
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North Melbourne's Ben Cunnington (pictured) breaks down with emotion during an acceptance speech.
North Melbourne's Ben Cunnington (pictured) was runner-up in the club's best and fairest award and broke down after a tough 2021 season. (Images: @NMFCOfficial)

North Melbourne midfielder Ben Cunnington has delivered an emotional acceptance speech after finishing runner-up in the club's best and fairest award following his battle with cancer in 2021.

Cunnington, 30, underwent a successful surgery in July after doctors discovered a testicular tumour.

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The midfielder returned to action after missing seven games in the middle of the season, but remarkably finished second behind Jy Simpkin in the Syd Barker Medal.

Following his achievement, Cunnington broke down when club great David King asked what the award meant to him after such a difficult season on and off the field.

“For some reason I’m getting a bit emotional even though I didn’t even win it," Cunnington said on a live stream.

Cunnington, who is normally quiet when it comes to the media, wiped away tears as he addressed the battle he faced in 2021.

“Oh I’m not good at this stuff," he added.

“Just to have the support from the club, the players and my beautiful family, yeah I couldn’t have done it without them.

“It’s more than I even expected. You think you’re a bit more alone but the support (from) everyone from the top of the club to the fans stuck at home, it’s been huge.

“It actually helps me smile and makes we want to keep continuing playing for this great club. It means more than I ever thought.”

Cunnington went on to show his humility, which has made him so popular amongst the players, and said he was 'embarrassed' because he didn't want to take the spotlight away from the winner.

AFL world rallies around Ben Cunnington

Following his emotional speech, the AFL world was quick to show their support for the midfielder.

The Herald Sun reporter Marc McGowan pointed out it was a rare public display of emotion from the popular AFL player.

"Never thought I'd see Ben Cunnington crying," he wrote.

"He's been through a heck of a lot and you probably all-too-easily brush these things off until you see the visible impact."

Others pointed out how emotional it was seeing Cunnington break down.

Cunnington polled 117 votes, behind Simpkin's 143.

Simpkin had a career best season after averaging 26.9 disposals and 5.1 clearances per game for North Melbourne.

“I’m pretty speechless to be honest,” Simpkin said of his win.

“It’s something you dream about as a kid growing up playing AFL football. When you’re younger you’re seeing these guys accepting awards and one day you want to be like them.

“Today it sort of becomes a reality a little bit.”

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