‘It was looking pretty grim’: Cox reflects on wild ride back to top of game

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Key points

  • Mason Cox was best on ground in Collingwood’s 11-goal thrashing of the Giants.
  • The American Pie’s AFL career was at the crossroads two years ago before a late reprieve.
  • Cox now considers every game and moment as a “bonus” after turning 32 in March.

Collingwood cult hero Mason Cox is treating every career moment as a bonus these days after barely surviving the club’s cull two years ago.

The 32-year-old big friendly giant enjoyed another standout game at the MCG on Sunday that evoked memories of his show-stopping, three-goal preliminary final display against Richmond in 2018. For those familiar, it was the full Cox experience.

Collingwood’s Mason Cox had a field day against the Giants.Credit: Getty Images

He fell only two disposals short of matching his personal best of 21 from last year, terrorising GWS Giants with two goals – including an unlikely one from beyond 50 metres – nine marks (four contested) and four clearances.

Coach Craig McRae, the man who spent endless hours eight years ago teaching the American the nuances of Australian rules football and how to kick a Sherrin, believed it was one of his best performances, even if Cox wasn’t convinced.

“I’m not downplaying GWS, but I think a prelim against Richmond – I don’t know how many games they had won in a row at the MCG [22] – but to be able to stop them having a four-peat is certainly up there,” Cox told The Age.

“On a Sunday afternoon versus GWS it’s probably not at the same level, but when you get these moments, man – I’m not stupid.

“I’m in the back half of my career, but whenever you get to play these kinds of games, you’ve got to soak them in, and just make the most of it and really enjoy it. These are fleeting moments, man.”

Cox had to wait until late October in 2021 to score a one-year contract, which possibly came only because Max Lynch got his wish to be traded to Hawthorn, and followed a brief flirtation with potentially becoming a Docker.

A year before that, Sydney were interested enough in the 211-centimetre ruckman to track him down in Hamilton Island and conduct medical testing before opting to recruit Tom Hickey instead.

Cox was at his best against the Giants.Credit: AFL Photos

“It’s been a pretty wild ride. I was at ACL [Texan music festival Austin City Limits], drunk, thinking I was going to go to Fremantle, after taking a phone call from Justin Longmuir,” he said.

“Somehow, I ended up coming back here, and we had a change of coach [from Nathan Buckley]. The culture we built here is phenomenal, and it’s a credit to Craig. He was the first coach I had, and he’s probably the only coach I’d come back and play for at this club.

“Craig’s given so much to me in my career, and we used to spend every day having a kick and him teaching me what the hell AFL was, so it’s pretty cool to be able to have a full-circle moment and be able to get back to him.”

McRae revelled in the Cox Show at the MCG on Sunday, finding his second-quarter goal celebration, after his booming 50-metre strike – hand on hip, complete with triumphant finger point – particularly amusing. In another oh-so-Cox moment, he stared down Giants defender Nick Haynes after another towering grab inside 50.

“There was a bit of trash talk out there, and a few jumper punches thrown, so if someone is going to talk shit like that and try to get into me, you best believe whenever I take a mark, I’m going to let them know,” he said.

“That’s always been my MO [modus operandi]. I’m a bit of a prick at times, and other fans might not like it, but I know the Collingwood faithful don’t mind it.”

There is never a dull moment in Cox’s life, and this year is another case in point. A haematoma and ruptured spleen sidelined him for five weeks, including missing the Anzac Day clash; he featured on the US version of 60 Minutes, again trying to explain the foreign game to his home country; and he is due to play his 100th game in round 11 against North Melbourne in a fortnight’s time.

Cox reached a contract trigger last year that extended his career into this season, but his agent, Liam Pickering, will be locked in negotiations again with Pies football and list boss Graham Wright about 2024.

“I kind of look at it that everything is a bonus now,” he said.

“I’ve been able to make a statement in the AFL and had this amazing experience overseas and really enjoyed it. Hopefully, I can make the most of this year, and who knows what comes after that?

“It was looking pretty grim two years ago, but it’s pretty crazy how it turns around. They say it’s a marathon, not a sprint, but a week in footy’s a long time.”Keep up to date with the best AFL coverage in the country. Sign up for the Real Footy newsletter.

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