Walking the Walk – Mason Cox

We’re a funny bunch, AFL supporters.

We seem to want something right up until we get it, and suddenly, we don’t want it anymore. For years, people have complained about the formulaic responses of players and coaches that make watching and listening to interviews about as interesting as cutting your toenails. However, when something out of the ordinary happena along, and we get someone who dances to the beat of their own drum, we rail against him.

We want characters, but we don’t. We’re a little nuts in that way.

Many moons ago, I had the opportunity to visit the United States. My travelling partner at the time – may he rest in peace – was into the NFL, so whenever we’d stop in a city, we’d be at a bar watching games, and whilst I didn’t take to American Football, I did like how honest some of the players were both before the game and after the game.

I kind of wish I took more notice at the time, but I do remember one fella being interviewed about 15 minutes before kick-off. He was asked about the chances of the opposition to stop him. He smiled and then ripped them a new one, calling them too slow to cover him, said their depth was poor, thwir offensive line wasnt strong enough, and that his team should have no trouble handling them.

Confidence. Cockiness. Honesty???

My ears couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Here was a professional athlete… telling the truth?

Lo and behold, a couple of hours later, I finish playing pool and drinking beer to discover his team won easily. He talked the talk and then went out and walked the walk.

And it is that second aspect that people are taking issue with Mason Cox over in the AFL, at the moment. Talking the big game has never been the problem. It’s the walking part that was the issue against GWS this past weekend.

He barely got out of a crawl.

As Cox lines up against his former teammate in around four days’ time, it is him, not Brodie Grundy that is under pressure to perform. I don’t think we’ll be hearing much in the way of comments from the Collingwood big man in regard to the upcoming game, this week.

You see, Grundy has already responded to his critics. Humble, driven, determined, he has proven those who doubted him wrong with one game against one of the best big men of the last 20 years.

But Mason…

Well, Mason did just the opposite, returning just five disposals after recording goose eggs through the first half, as his Magpies capitulated to the GWS Giants. To make matters worse, Cox’s talking before the game had the spotlight shining brightly on him, highlighting his failures just a little more brilliantly than they would have otherwise been. In the week leading up to the clash, Cox was quoted making note of the NRL playing their season opening fixtures in Las Vegas, whilst his team was heading to a “showground for livestock” in Sydney’s west.

GWS Social Media team… go!

To exacerbate the problem, Cox then decided to run into GWS ruck coach, Shane Mumford, during the warm-ups, effectively running through the Giants’ area to make a point.

What that point was still escapes me. Maybe he was retrieving a footy belonging to Collingwood? Maybe he wanted to ruffle some feather? Regardless, he did it. He has been issued a ‘please explain’ by the AFL, but we already know the reason – in essence, he was being a bit of a dick.

That’s not the worst thing in the world. Most people are, at one time, or another.

What followed from that point onwards was what mattered to me, and is likely an indication of where Mason Cox is currently at as a player, as he was completely ineffective against Kieren Briggs when in the ruck, and was blanketed by both Sam Taylor and Jack Buckley whenever Briggs wasn’t in the vicinity. Around the ground, he was a non-factor.

Mason failed to walk the walk. He shot off his mouth and shot himself in the foot in the process, and whilst we lament the lack of genuine characters in the game, when we finally got one, we were quick to pile on as soon as we got the chance. Maybe it’s justified in this case.

When we talk about Mason Cox, it is important to look at his career in context. He has been a handy role player for the Pies – he has dined out on that Preliminary Final against Richmond for a long while. That was back in 2018… so long ago. However, since then, how many games has he dominated?

One? Two at the most? And “domination” in this regard is a relative term. He dominated to the point he was much more effective than he usually is. I’m not sure that he has ever been THE best player on the park since that fateful day in 2018. Maybe his 21 disposals and eight marks in Round 13, 2022 qualify?

Mason Cox, over the last two and a bits seasons, has played 38 games. Of them, he has registered double figures in disposals in just ten. But that’s not what he is in the side for, is it?

No, he is a big man – take marks, win hit outs, kick goals.

So, how has he fared in those categories?

In 15 of the 38 games, he has had 20+ hit outs. That’s 39.5% of games played

In 17 of the 38 games, he has had two or more contested marks. That’s 44.7% of games.

And in just five games out of 38, he has managed two or more goals. Only 13% of games.

That last stat is pretty damning, particularly as he has had Darcy Cameron playing the majority of the ruck role in that period, meaning that Cox has spent plenty of time forward.

So, as the late, great Jack Dyer would say, we’re dealing with a “good, ordinary player” when it comes to Mason, however, we are dealing with one that has a larger spotlight than some of the genuine stars of the game.

He is criticised like a star because he acts like one and has the profile of one. Perhaps that’s what makes people so inclined to go for the jugular when he doesn’t perform up to even their average expectations. Ten times in the last two and a bit years, Mason has turned in games like he did against GWS, with five or fewer disposals to his name. Twice as many times as he has kicked multiple goals.

Underperforming is not a new thing for him – but in an opening round, making a spectacle of himself in the lead up, only to fail to live up to the hype, was not his greatest moment.

At almost 33 years of age (Happy Birthday on Thursday, Mason), it could be fair to say we’ve seen more from Mason Cox, the character, in recent years, than we have from Mason Cox, the footballer. He’s been out there, and has a premiership medallion to show for it – something many of his critics will never possess unless they get lucky on eBay, but it is clear that he is as much image now as he is performance. As much style as there is substance.

Jason Akermanis, Warwick Capper, Dermott Brereton – they had big personalities, big profiles, and put themselves out there, they were able to back it up on the field. They walked the walk.

This week against Sydney, Cox should be rather subdued in the lead up, but once he gets out there, he will need to be at his best – Mason Cox, the footballer, not the character – as it is his turn to back it up.

Time for a little less style and a little more substance, a little more steak and a little less sizzle.

Time for Mason to walk the walk.


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