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Here’s to my idol, David Mackay

David Mackay is more than a teammate to Andy Otten. The pair go back further than their playing days at the Crows and even before featuring in a premiership together at TAC Cup level. Ahead of Mackay’s 200th game, Otten pays tribute to his lifelong friend in an exclusive column.

I walk into Slater Reserve in Blackburn for my first junior basketball training session and see a skinny kid with blond hair shooting hoops.

He’d been there for 30 minutes with his old man and grandparents. This was where I met David Mackay for the first time; on the basketball court, playing under-8s for the mighty Blackburn Vikings.

My father was the coach, and with Dave’s help we were quite a good side! Even then, Dave’s work ethic and want to improve was on show.

Eventually, he left our small club for the powerhouse Nunawading Spectres and, I won’t lie, I was filthy at him for a while – I never thought we’d go on to become lifeline friends.

Down the track, Dave and I played for the Oakleigh Chargers in the TAC Cup – it was great to have a familiar face in the program. We played in a premiership together in 2006, the first in the Chargers’ history. Dave was always a stand out with his pace and skill on the wing and AFL was always calling his name.

The Adelaide Crows snatched Dave up and a year later I would follow suit. The first person to call me was Dave, telling me how great the club was and what an exciting opportunity lay ahead. His excitement was infectious and quelled any doubts I had. From there our friendship grew.

After spending my first year interstate with a host family, I moved in with D-Mac. I was there for two years before making way for Dave’s girlfriend, and now wife, who moved over from Melbourne.

He was a bit of a clean freak and I certainly felt the pressure to follow suit. I’m not sure if I lived up to his expectations – maybe that had something to do with me being kicked out – and I’d even go as far as saying he is verging on OCD. Throughout his 12-year career, he has been on the weight gaining program so I got to witness Dave eating huge amounts of food only to never add a kilogram to his frame.

Initially, the familiarity of each other drew us closer together. Personally, I saw how professional Dave was so I watched him closely. He played nearly every game in my first year at the club – I idolised him and he showed me how hard to work on and off the track. Living with him definitely made me improve my professional standards because Dave set such a good example.

Due to our families living close to each other in Melbourne, we were able to train together in the off-season and even during the Christmas period down at the Rye or Sorrento footy ovals. Chasing Dave every session was not fun, especially him being the elite runner he was and I would always be behind cursing myself for always training with someone who made me look bad.

We lent on each other a lot. We knew the role our families played in our lives so one of the main things early days was supporting each other through homesickness. We knew what we were going through and were leading similar lives. I was also always a year behind him so I needed him a lot.

I was living with him when I did my knee and he was a huge help. Dave would be the first person visiting me in hospital with some chocolate and a pizza.

We know what he’s like on the field – he’s a silky-smooth mover – but he’s also one of the hardest working players off the field and is totally dedicated to being the best player he can.

A specific memory I have of Dave is in Round 20, 2012 against the Dockers at Football Park. Dave collected the ball, ran past three or four opponents and slotted a goal from just inside 50, giving his famous finger point celebration – vintage D-Mac!

He puts a lot of pressure on himself each week but I’ve seen him relax with that over the journey. Getting married and having his family has really helped. The way his kids, family and wife look up to him is a joy to watch.

Since starting a family, he’s realised that footy isn’t his number one priority and I admire how balanced he is now. Dave’s footy journey, like most, hasn’t been as easy as people think but he’s always remained true to himself and that’s why he’s been able to play for so long and have so much success.

But Dave hasn’t changed a huge amount over the years. He still is pretty quiet but when he talks, everyone listens. He is hugely respected by the playing group and everyone takes in what he’s saying because he’s usually spot on. He speaks up when he has to.

One of my favourite memories is when the MC interviewed me at his wedding. I still laugh at how he gave me a stern talking to beforehand: “Otto, it’s my wedding, mate, so make sure you keep it nice enough for everyone”.

The fact that he felt the need to do that is still hilarious to me. Fortunately for him, I did what he asked.

We always had this joke that D-Mac was the type of guy that you’d want your daughter or sister to marry because he treats everyone with so much respect.

All those years ago, I had no idea the bloke streaming down the court for the Vikings would be my best mate but I always knew he was destined for greatness.

He’s moved on from the peroxide hair now – although we question if he’s had a touch up every now and then, which he flatly denies. He also loves whipping out some product from his bag and running it through his hair after every game and training session. His hair is very important – but I still love him all the same.

I’m so proud to have played alongside Dave and that he has been able to play 200 games for Adelaide. There aren’t many more deserving running around. Both on and off the field he is someone I have idolised.

During the week, he spoke about the joy you feel after winning a game and I hope he gets to celebrate this weekend.