THE turning point in Andrew McCarthy’s football life was a terrible performance in the 2007 reserves grand final.
His Warrnambool side won, but by his admissions it wasn’t because of him.
Tomorrow a fitter McCarthy will line up in his 200th senior game with the Blues as a significantly more influential and revered footballer. He is a three-time senior premiership player and just the 14th Blue in 153 years to reach the milestone.
To appreciate his success and evolution from bit-part player to Hampden interleague representative, you have to look back.
“I was terrible on grand final day,” McCarthy remembered of 2007.
“I decided I had to do something. I dropped 15 kilos and got a lot fitter from then on.”
Nicknamed “Pies” after a Cobden opponent famously called him a “pie scoffer” in 2004 because of his solid build, McCarthy is comfortable with the moniker these days.
“It helps you embrace a nickname when it’s not the case any more,” he said.
McCarthy joined Warrnambool’s under 18s from Hawkesdale-Macarthur in 2001, breaking into the senior side as a 17-year-old for the last two home-and-away games. The following year while still playing under 18s, he made another three senior appearances but he seemed to cement a spot in 2003.
The following year under new coach Jason Heatley he played the first two senior matches of the season before spending another “eight or nine” in the reserves. He fought back and claimed a senior spot late that season and was part of the Blues’ unsuccessful 2004 grand final side.
It was the start of a frustrating ride as the Blues missed the finals in 2005 and 2006 before he broke a bone in his foot while playing in the reserves in 2007 as his fitness started to slide.
McCarthy played in the Blues’ grand final sides in 2008 and 2009. Entering the 2010 grand final, he had a 0-3 strike rate in premiership deciders. He played well and the Blues won. Then he was part of the Blues’ side that was defeated by South Warrnambool in 2011.
“I was one out of five in 2011,” McCarthy said.
But he has improved that record to three wins out of seven grand final appearances following back-to-back wins in 2012 and last year.
The 30-year-old never dreamed of such a record.
“Initially for me at Warrnambool I wanted to play in a premiership and play 100 games. That’s all I wanted to do,” he said.
The Warrnambool accountant has lost track of the number of positions he has filled on the field. He started as a centre half-forward in under 18s and made his senior debut on a half-forward flank. He has played key forward and back roles, as well as being a back-up ruckman. In more recent seasons he has been a permanent ruckman, who has made a name for himself floating across half-back halting opposition attacks with well-timed intercepting marks.
“You look at a lot of guys who have played 200 games and they have probably played one spot,” he said.
“I might have only pinned down a position for a year but changes have probably kept getting me games because I can move around.”
McCarthy enjoys the various roles thrown his way and tomorrow, when he runs out against arch-rival South Warrnambool in front of his wife Jessica, their three-month-old son William and other family members, he is not fussed where he plays. “I’m just happy to be in the 21,” he said.
Coach Scott Carter, who was nearing the end of his playing career when McCarthy joined the Blues, said versatility and a peerless ability to read the play defined his swingman.
“He’s just been a great story,” Carter said.
“He is someone who has shown loyalty to the club through good times and bad. He was part of the era when the club missed finals two years in a row in an eight-team competition. He played in three losing grand finals before he won his first in 2010 and he probably played 30 or 40 games in the reserves. A lot of people would’ve taken their bat and ball and taken the money in the District league.
“Anyone who has seen our last two finals series would say he’s been fantastic.”
Carter said that while McCarthy was “never going to win a Stawell Gift”, his sharp mind more than compensated.
“It’s a credit to his persistence and loyalty that he’s made himself into a well-regarded player,” he said. “He’s going to be a 200-game life member of the club and at least a three-time premiership player.”