‘It’s been a crazy journey’: Cox’s ride from the US, to turmoil, to game 100
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Three weeks ago, Collingwood ruckman Mason Cox was the subject of a feature interview on 60 Minutes – the American, not Australian edition of the long-running current affairs program. In 13 minutes, Cox’s story reached around 8 million people – several times the average American audience for a grand final.
And unlike those who tuned in for the biggest game on the AFL calendar, most of them wouldn’t have even heard of Australian rules football.
American Pie Mason Cox will play game 100 this weekend.Credit: Getty Images
“I think there’s a huge market there, and a huge opportunity the AFL’s missing out on at the moment,” Cox says ahead of his 100th game on Saturday.
Not that the AFL would necessarily love the game being portrayed as “full of almost cartoonishly violent collisions” and “non-stop trash-talk”, depicting an era of the code that its administrators would likely prefer forgotten. But the interview proved one thing beyond doubt: Cox is a walking seven-foot advertisement for the sport.
“For me personally it was a good way of explaining what AFL is to a broader market, and then also being able to tell my story within it,” Cox says. “I’ve got a passion for growing the game internationally, and it’s going to take a bit of effort from my side, but also the AFL side and investment from them to see the benefit of it.”
He will share his milestone with Steele Sidebottom’s 300th, which he says “probably outdoes my little 100, to be honest”. But Cox’s moment of humility – unlike most Australians, he is happy to talk himself up – is probably wrong. Given Cox didn’t even know AFL existed until he was 23, you could argue the scale of his achievement even exceeds Sidebottom’s.
“It’s been a crazy journey,” he says. “It’s pretty unique, but it’s also pretty cool, in the same breath – to be able to say that you’re the only person to really have done something from the background that you come from. So that’s something I’ll definitely hold close to me.”
In the 60 Minutes interview, coach Craig McRae said Cox had a chip on his shoulder that drove him to prove others wrong. Cox is blunter, and funnier. Asked the best thing about being an AFL player, he quips: “I’m a bit of a competitive prick, so putting that energy out on an AFL field and beating the shit out of people is always nice.” He’s joking, but not by much.
And as much as he’s proving his many doubters wrong, Cox is proving McRae right. McRae was Collingwood’s head of development when he came to the club, and Cox thanks his coach for the time and effort he has invested in him, not just in developing his skills, but for making him feel at home.
When McRae returned to coach Collingwood, things were getting dark. “There was a lot of turmoil, as far as people getting sacked, and moved on, there was uncertainty about the future and a lot of question marks around the club in general,” Cox says. He was, he says, getting towards the back end of his career, and wondered if he, too, would be pushed out.
Cox is glad to repay the faith that Craig McRae showed in him.Credit: Getty Images
But Cox was retained, and under McRae, he is blossoming again. “I’ve always had that close connection with him over the years. He’s given so much to me at the beginning of my career, and helping me get to where I’m at now – the opportunity to be able to repay that faith was a major reason for me coming back to the club.”
And here’s the thing: at 32, in his ninth season of football, Cox is playing the most consistently influential football of his career. He doesn’t have to tear games apart, as he famously did against Richmond in the 2018 preliminary final. Playing as a ruckman who goes forward instead of the other way around, he could go for a few more years yet.
“I’ll keep going until the contracts dry up!” he says. “I think over the last few years – especially with the change of a lot of different people in the club – I feel a lot more able to be myself. I was always questioned around work rate, and being an American coming into an AFL team, you’re that far behind that you kind of have to try to prove yourself every single day.”
Cox was naturalised as an Australian citizen last year. As much as he is an evangelist for the code in his old country, he’s equally passionate about his new one. After football, he says, “I’d love to do a travel show … I’ve been to some of the most remote places you can think of, and it’s a beautiful country.
“I think a lot of Australians decide to go overseas and say eventually I’ll get back to go see it all, and if it takes an outsider to tell them how good it really is, then I would love to be a conduit for that.”
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