A good sledge can be a defining moment in a sporting career - as former Port Adelaide champion Kane Cornes admitted on the new series What Really Happened?, which has been published by AFL.com.au.
While Cornes has gone on to enjoy a lucrative media career since retiring in 2015, the 300-gamer said it was a matchup with Fremantle’s Nat Fyfe in 2014 that sparked a realisation that his days in the league might be numbered.
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Fyfe had won the Brownlow medal in 2013 as he guided the Dockers to the club’s first grand final in their short history, and had shown no signs of losing his elite form the following season.
Port Adelaide coach Ken Hinkley started Brad Ebert on Fyfe during the teams’ round eight clash, but when the reigning league best and fairest racked up touch after touch in the first time, the call came for Cornes to take the lead.
“The message from Ken Hinkley was pretty simple — do not let Fyfe touch the ball,” Cornes said.
“So at the next stoppage, I went over and stood next to Nat Fyfe.
“He looked at me in amusement almost, I’ll never forget the look on his face, and he said to me with the ball only about 5m away, he forgot the ball and said ‘bring your old skinny frail bones with me, we’re going straight to the goalsquare’.
“I thought ‘oh, here we go’.”
Cornes’ instincts were right - the much taller and heavier Fyfe cleared out the forward line and made hey, booting a goal and hitting the veteran midfielder with another cutting remark.
“He looked at me and said ‘told you old man, it’s going to be a pretty rough day for you’,” Cornes said.
“That was it and that was the moment that had me questioning my football future.
“It took me another 12 months before I actually did retire but I never ever forgot that sledge from Nat Fyfe.”
The moment Kane Cornes knew his time was up
After getting well and truly towelled up by Fyfe, Cornes said he came to the realisation that competing against a new generation of midfielders who were as big as key position players was making it tougher for him to compete.
“What I did find is that the midfielders just kept getting bigger and bigger and bigger,” he said.
“On a good day I was weighing in at 79kg and the likes of Patrick Cripps, Marcus Bontempelli, Fyfe, Dustin Martin, Josh Kennedy from Sydney, are all upwards of 90kg, 95 even some of them tip the scales at 100.
“There was no way that I was going to be able to perform the role that I did against these powerhouse midfielders who would just brush me aside and make me look absolutely stupid.”