Too many young men die in tragic accidents while holidaying overseas. Too many AFL footballers find themselves in dangerous situations during end-of-season trips. But never before have these two circumstances collided in such a devastating manner as they did at dawn in Las Vegas yesterday when the body of a young man was eventually identified as the 22-year-old Port Adelaide player John McCarthy.
The details of just what happened in the hours and even minutes that led to McCarthy's death were still unfolding this morning. A police investigation had already begun but it is not clearly known yet how or why he died.
Whatever the dreadful details, it is known that something had gone horribly wrong for McCarthy on the last night of his young life. McCarthy's girlfriend Dani Smarrelli has confirmed to the club that McCarthy called her less than two hours before his death in a confused and distressed state. He had become separated from his teammates and told her he wanted to return home and was heading for the airport. She had tried to alert his teammates in Vegas, who included Brett Ebert, Travis Boak and Hamish Hartlett.
Scene of the tragedy: The Flamingo hotel in Las Vegas. Photo: AFP
The Flamingo Hotel where McCarthy died is situated four kilometres from the hotel where his teammates had been staying and police were attempting to work out how and why McCarthy had travelled so far from the rest of his group.
CCTV vision handed over from the Flamingo to police shows McCarthy entering the building and shortly afterwards standing on a mezzanine balcony only two or three floors from the ground, which is where he is understood to have fallen.
An-off duty policeman hired by the Western Bulldogs player for their end of season trip to Las Vegas has begun working with US authorities and Port Adelaide at the start of an investigation which police estimate could take up to eight weeks.
Part of the team: John McCarthy (second from left) has died in Las Vegas. Photo: Getty Images
Grief counsellors were being dispatched by Port Adelaide to Sydney and Adelaide airports, where the 10 remaining players were expected to arrive later today. By the time football boss Peter Rhode, who has flown to the US to provide another identification of McCarthy’s body, touched down in Las Vegas, Port Adelaide teammates had already arrived in Los Angeles and at dawn today were preparing to board a flight back to Australia.
Some of those players were keeping in touch with club officials and several were completely distraught, having not learned of McCarthy's death until the club notified them early yesterday.
Essendon players, among others, who were headed to Vegas were appropriately cancelling their trips as McCarthy's parents Shane and Cath were awaiting details of how and when their son's body would return home.
Shane McCarthy, a popular and respected figure across the football community, is a lawyer who lives at Portsea on the Mornington Peninsula. His brother-in-law, Rob Pitt, owns and runs the Sorrento Hotel and both were at the football on Saturday celebrating the Sorrento Sharks victory, which will see the team at Frankston this weekend aiming to win a third successive Mornington Peninsula League flag.
Only a week earlier John McCarthy was a key contributor for Port Adelaide at the MCG's last home-and-away game for 2012, which resulted in a draw but a moral victory for the Power against Richmond, the team that had fought for his signature 12 months earlier.The game at every level in South Australia and Victoria had some connection with the family and Australian football was in mourning last night. The Dandenong Stingrays were hosting their own sad and private ceremony last night.
At the Westpac Centre one Collingwood footballer was so shocked and devastated by the news he looked near collapse. Six of McCarthy's closest friends, including Dayne Beams, were called together by chief executive Gary Pert to hear the news before the wider group was addressed also by Pert and coach Nathan Buckley.
McCarthy had played at that club for four seasons while his elder brother Matthew had played at Geelong. Matthew was in Ireland yesterday when his family located him to break the news.
Melbourne footballer Troy Broadbridge was killed on his honeymoon in the Boxing Day tsunami of 2004 but no AFL player until now has died during an end-of-season trip, although West Coast Eagle Chad Fletcher came close after an accident believed to have been related to a drug overdose.
Given the blurred details of what happened to this well-regarded young player it is impossible yet to draw any conclusions except that it seems what took place could have been prevented.
Football appears diminished in comparison, even in September. Port Adelaide is searching for a new coach and may have already settled upon a new man, but that will be on hold now.
Mick Malthouse was due today to - finally - announce his takeover of the Carlton football team. But he coached and knew McCarthy and any announcement will take a back seat to what has taken place on the other side of the world.
To quote Leigh Matthews from the morning of September 12, 2001: "Suddenly football doesn't seem as important today as it did yesterday."