live Infotainment Factory: Inside the AFL's most inspirational comeback

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Thursday, 29 August 2019

Inside the AFL's most inspirational comeback


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Sixteen years ago Jason McCartney gave many AFL fans the most magical night of their lives with a heroic comeback game after suffering serious injuries in the 2002 Bali bombings.

Just 237 days after he was seriously burnt from the attacks, McCartney took to a football field for one final time in one of the more courageous returns from injury in the league's history.

With the numbers 88 and 202 etched on the chest of his jersey to signify the number of Australian lives lost as well as the number of total lives lost in the blast, McCartney orchestrated a fairytale finish, playing a vital role in a heart-stopping win for his beloved Kangaroos.

That night, McCartney caught the AFL world by surprise when he announced his retirement effective immediately after his stirring comeback, and he revealed to Wide World of Sports that it wasn't just fans who were caught off guard.

"Only myself and seven others in the leadership group knew," he said.

Jason McCartney

"I spoke to them Friday morning after the team meeting and then obviously the coach, the CEO and the footy manager were aware.

"Some of my younger teammates were unaware of it. It was mayhem in the rooms afterwards. It was like winning a premiership.

"They weren't exactly sure what was going on, albeit Friday night footy is always a big thing, but some of them were none the wiser to what had just unfolded."

McCartney admitted that it wasn't his original intention to retire immediately after his return, but said he came to the realisation during the arduous recovery process.

"The longer it took and the more understanding that I had of the extent of my injuries and the physical nature of the sport, I knew it was going to take a long time, so the timing was right," he said.

"I'd made that call about four weeks before I played. It was something that my wife and I sat on until I was selected again.

Jason McCartney

"The night itself, it lives with me forever. It was a great moment to be able to get out there and do what you love doing and what I had done for a long period of time with teammates who I had shared great success with.

"I was fortunate enough to be able to play a role in what was a special victory and to go out on a good note."

McCartney was heroic on the night of the bombings, credited with helping those injured around him rather than tending to his own injuries, but he called it a "natural reaction".

"At the time of the blast, my recollection is the flash of the explosion and the sheer force of the explosion," he said.

"The flash blinded me for a period of time and it was when my vision returned that I came to the realisation that buildings were on fire, people were on fire, and I too was also on fire.

"It was pretty much a natural reaction that kicked in. You try and get out of there as quickly as possible but also think about people around you.

Jason McCartney

"There happened to be a group nearby where there was another young lady who was seriously injured too and we were just lucky that we had each other to try and get out of that 15 metre radius to get out of the building."

By the time McCartney arrived at the Alfred hospital, three days after the blast after letting others leave on flights before him, he had lost close to half his skin and infections had set in.

The Kangaroos star was struggling to breathe due to the infections and was rushed straight into intensive care where he had multiple operations and skin grafts.

He was put on a mechanical breathing machine and nursed around the clock in intensive care for a week before he could be transferred to the burns recovery unit.

McCartney credited his AFL background for allowing him to maintain his discipline in the recovery process, but also said the people around him played a crucial role.

"As time passes by you do forget how challenging it was both mentally and physically," he said.

Jason McCartney

"I just tried to remain positive to the best of my endeavours and not look back and have the 'why me' moment.

"I just had to pass those dark moments and really try and surround myself with positive people and that's where the goal-setting and having a plan just helped me remain focused.

"When I was in the hospital, because of my background, I loved training and I loved structure so I remember being in intensive care and I got them to bring a whiteboard in and I started planning.

"I had a physio come in for 10-15 minutes in the morning and then again in the afternoon.

"I couldn't do much because I was pretty banged up especially after the week in a coma, but I just did simple things like squeezing a ball to regain movement in my fingers because my hands were badly burnt.

"We just progressed with that and then I was able to get up and walk with a frame and I was on a treadmill and hanging on for grim life at the slowest speed."

Jason McCartney

While admitting that all the staff at the Alfred were "pivotal", McCartney recalled his special connection with his physiotherapist, the late Henrietta Law.

"I think it was due to my background in sport and having that discipline and commitment to training," he said.

"She was from Hong Kong and had a military background so we were chalk and cheese.

"She was a very short person and I'm quite a tall person, we were the odd couple.

"Along with Henrietta and my wife, we formed an amazing team and we got things done and I'm forever grateful to the Alfred in particular and the staff there."

The Alfred is one of the world's leading trauma hospitals and McCartney is forever grateful for the work they did for him.

Jason McCartney

As a result of his intensive surgeries and care, McCartney, who is now the list manager of the GWS Giants, said he is not impeded at all from his injuries aside from bearing scars from the burns.

McCartney is now an ambassador for the Alfred's Father's Day Appeal which encourages Victorians to 'G1ve 4 Life' in the hope of raising $1 million to help provide critical care and services for fathers and their families.

"We're so lucky in Melbourne to have one of the world's leading trauma hospitals in our own backyard," he said.

"You probably sit there and think like I did that you'll never need it or you'll never be impacted, and then out of the blue something happens and you're really dependent on a place like the Alfred."  

Sixteen years ago Jason McCartney gave many AFL fans the most magical night of their lives with a heroic comeback game after suffering serious injuries in the 2002 Bali bombings.

Just 237 days after he was seriously burnt from the attacks, McCartney took to a football field for one final time in one of the more courageous returns from injury in the league's history.

With the numbers 88 and 202 etched on the chest of his jersey to signify the number of Australian lives lost as well as the number of total lives lost in the blast, McCartney orchestrated a fairytale finish, playing a vital role in a heart-stopping win for his beloved Kangaroos.

That night, McCartney caught the AFL world by surprise when he announced his retirement effective immediately after his stirring comeback, and he revealed to Wide World of Sports that it wasn't just fans who were caught off guard.

"Only myself and seven others in the leadership group knew," he said.

Jason McCartney

"I spoke to them Friday morning after the team meeting and then obviously the coach, the CEO and the footy manager were aware.

"Some of my younger teammates were unaware of it. It was mayhem in the rooms afterwards. It was like winning a premiership.

"They weren't exactly sure what was going on, albeit Friday night footy is always a big thing, but some of them were none the wiser to what had just unfolded."

McCartney admitted that it wasn't his original intention to retire immediately after his return, but said he came to the realisation during the arduous recovery process.

"The longer it took and the more understanding that I had of the extent of my injuries and the physical nature of the sport, I knew it was going to take a long time, so the timing was right," he said.

"I'd made that call about four weeks before I played. It was something that my wife and I sat on until I was selected again.

Jason McCartney

"The night itself, it lives with me forever. It was a great moment to be able to get out there and do what you love doing and what I had done for a long period of time with teammates who I had shared great success with.

"I was fortunate enough to be able to play a role in what was a special victory and to go out on a good note."

McCartney was heroic on the night of the bombings, credited with helping those injured around him rather than tending to his own injuries, but he called it a "natural reaction".

"At the time of the blast, my recollection is the flash of the explosion and the sheer force of the explosion," he said.

"The flash blinded me for a period of time and it was when my vision returned that I came to the realisation that buildings were on fire, people were on fire, and I too was also on fire.

"It was pretty much a natural reaction that kicked in. You try and get out of there as quickly as possible but also think about people around you.

Jason McCartney

"There happened to be a group nearby where there was another young lady who was seriously injured too and we were just lucky that we had each other to try and get out of that 15 metre radius to get out of the building."

By the time McCartney arrived at the Alfred hospital, three days after the blast after letting others leave on flights before him, he had lost close to half his skin and infections had set in.

The Kangaroos star was struggling to breathe due to the infections and was rushed straight into intensive care where he had multiple operations and skin grafts.

He was put on a mechanical breathing machine and nursed around the clock in intensive care for a week before he could be transferred to the burns recovery unit.

McCartney credited his AFL background for allowing him to maintain his discipline in the recovery process, but also said the people around him played a crucial role.

"As time passes by you do forget how challenging it was both mentally and physically," he said.

Jason McCartney

"I just tried to remain positive to the best of my endeavours and not look back and have the 'why me' moment.

"I just had to pass those dark moments and really try and surround myself with positive people and that's where the goal-setting and having a plan just helped me remain focused.

"When I was in the hospital, because of my background, I loved training and I loved structure so I remember being in intensive care and I got them to bring a whiteboard in and I started planning.

"I had a physio come in for 10-15 minutes in the morning and then again in the afternoon.

"I couldn't do much because I was pretty banged up especially after the week in a coma, but I just did simple things like squeezing a ball to regain movement in my fingers because my hands were badly burnt.

"We just progressed with that and then I was able to get up and walk with a frame and I was on a treadmill and hanging on for grim life at the slowest speed."

Jason McCartney

While admitting that all the staff at the Alfred were "pivotal", McCartney recalled his special connection with his physiotherapist, the late Henrietta Law.

"I think it was due to my background in sport and having that discipline and commitment to training," he said.

"She was from Hong Kong and had a military background so we were chalk and cheese.

"She was a very short person and I'm quite a tall person, we were the odd couple.

"Along with Henrietta and my wife, we formed an amazing team and we got things done and I'm forever grateful to the Alfred in particular and the staff there."

The Alfred is one of the world's leading trauma hospitals and McCartney is forever grateful for the work they did for him.

Jason McCartney

As a result of his intensive surgeries and care, McCartney, who is now the list manager of the GWS Giants, said he is not impeded at all from his injuries aside from bearing scars from the burns.

McCartney is now an ambassador for the Alfred's Father's Day Appeal which encourages Victorians to 'G1ve 4 Life' in the hope of raising $1 million to help provide critical care and services for fathers and their families.

"We're so lucky in Melbourne to have one of the world's leading trauma hospitals in our own backyard," he said.

"You probably sit there and think like I did that you'll never need it or you'll never be impacted, and then out of the blue something happens and you're really dependent on a place like the Alfred."  

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