McCartins revel in unlikely AFL reunion

·4-min read

Paddy McCartin has played more AFL games this year at Sydney than he did in his first three seasons as St Kilda's No.1 draft pick.

He didn't join the Swans until the end of January, when McCartin was a late addition as a rookie listing.

It was seen at the time as a feel-good story, with McCartin joining younger brother Tom at the Swans to close out an AFL career ruined by repeated concussions.

On Saturday, the McCartins will be key players in the Sydney defence when they take on Geelong in the grand final.

"Where do you start - Paddy's comeback has been nothing short of inspiring," says Swans co-captain Dane Rampe.

"To deal with the unknown surrounding his concussion history, coming back and overcoming that, it's been pretty profound."

There have been several great AFL player comebacks this year. Carlton's Sam Docherty and North Melbourne's Ben Cunnington have overcome cancer.

Tyson Stengle also will play in the grand final for Geelong, and he's an All-Australian, after his AFL career was on the precipice because of repeated off-field dramas.

But as Rampe points out, McCartin overcame concussion and moved interstate to join a new club.

Then there's the pressure of being a No.1 draft pick. And after starting his AFL career as a key forward, McCartin now combines with Tom as key defenders.

In short, he's overcome a bit.

The McCartins shared a moment after Saturday's riveting preliminary final win over Collingwood

"It was really special - I said to him after the game how proud of him I am," Tom said.

Clearly, one of the keys to Paddy's comeback is his brother. The McCartins are a tight family.

Rampe chuckles when asked about their bond.

"They go out of the way to find each other - more celebrations and things after games," Rampe said.

"They stream straight past you and go to each other. That can feel quite isolating."

The Saints recruited McCartin with the top pick in the 2014 draft and there was some focus at the time on his diabetes.

But it would be concussions that thwarted him, with McCartin playing only 22 games from 2015-17 and 35 in total.

Two years ago, his AFL playing days looked over.

Tom, meanwhile, had joined Sydney through the 2017 draft and was going well.

Raised in Batesford, just outside Geelong, the brothers had not seen much of each other for a few years given Paddy went to St Kilda when Tom was only 14.

So Paddy came up to Sydney for a visit two years ago and spoke with Swans coach John Longmire.

"He came up for a couple of weeks, just to get out of Melbourne and I think he trained with the VFL side, to have a run around," Tom said.

"I'm not too sure what happened from there - he just had a think about it and asked 'Horse' (Longmire).

"Typical Horse - he's such a great family man and he was in pretty close touch with Paddy. It went from there."

After playing for the Swans' VFL affiliate last year, McCartin made his unlikely AFL return.

This year, Paddy has played 23 games and he is yet another Swans defender who was recruited as a rookie (Rampe) or started life as a forward (Tom as well).

Typical of the Swans' "bloods" culture, it is a backline that is far better than the sum of its parts.

Swans ruckman Tom Hickey, who was also a teammate of McCartin's at St Kilda, says he thoroughly deserves his unexpected AFL success.

Hickey adds several old Saints teammates have been in touch to wish them well.

"He's a good mate of mine, he came to my wedding. He's always been such a talented footballer and such a good person," Hickey said.

"It was heartbreaking to see the stuff he had gone through and chatting to him through that time as well.

"To see him come on, it's no real surprise, he's No.1 draft pick, he's a talented player and he works his butt off."

The McCartins now have the giant task of quelling Tom Hawkins and Jeremy Cameron, the AFL's best key forward combination this season.

You sense their opponents or the occasion won't daunt them.