As Port Adelaide’s Kane Cornes prepares to hang up the boots after 300 games and become a fireman, The Advertiser pays tribute to his amazing 15-year career.
Andrew McLeod just waited for Kane Cornes’ shadow to darken his patch at Football Park with every Showdown against Port Adelaide.
“OK, let’s go,” McLeod would say to the Power’s master tagger. And their twice-ayear duel rolled on for a decade, as predictably as night follows day.
Dual Norm Smith Medallist McLeod’s recollections of facing Cornes as an opponent are not of a menace or a drain on his enjoyment of football, not the usual reference an elite ballplayer will offer of taggers.
“Kane changed the way I played,” says McLeod, the games recordholder (340) at Adelaide – an AFL title Cornes also has, at Port Adelaide.
“Kane would stop you getting 25-30 possessions in a Showdown. So you had to make the 15-20 you did get count. You learned not to rack up possessions, but to deliver more with less while Kane had the ability to shut you down.”
There is an interesting twist to the Cornes-McLeod duels that in many ways defined Showdowns.
McLeod came from the Port Adelaide Magpies as a premiership player to become one of the Crows’ greatest players. Cornes arrived from Glenelg, the ultimate contrast to all that is Port Adelaide.
They each became heroes in enemy territory – and both survived difficult moments that almost forced them to find a second AFL club.
“And every Showdown,” says McLeod, “you knew what was coming … Kane Cornes.
“I looked forward to the challenge. It would be a tough day. I’d have to earn my keep – no matter what. That’s what forced me to become a better player.”
Cornes’ trophy cabinet has some of the AFL’s most-decorated players, none more often mentioned than Brownlow Medallist Simon Black in the 2004 grand final when the Power ended Brisbane’s run of three consecutive premierships. As Lions coach Leigh Matthews notes in his high praise of the Power tagger, Cornes not only countered Black – he beat him for possessions (19 to 15) to be a contender for the Norm Smith Medal.
“As much as you would get frustrated – and think, ‘I should belt this guy’ – you could never do it with Kane. He is a nice guy.” – Andrew McLeod
“To a coach,” Matthews says, “that makes Kane Cornes worth his weight in gold.”
As McLeod was forced to think more and more how he played against Cornes, he was also compelled to create tactics to avoid his shadow.
“People forget tagging was not Kane’s natural game – he was an All-Australian wingman, he could play the game in his own right – and play it very well,” McLeod says.
“He was a natural ball-finder. So I had to be just as accountable for Kane as he was for me. I was prepared to let him get his kicks in the back half – I did not want him having the ball at the other end and getting on the scoresheet.
“If Kane was getting a kick in the back half, I had the opportunity to get away from him. I had to get somewhere else – somewhere to find a kick without him as my shadow because he had a GPS tracker on his opponents. He would be looking for you. And he would find you.”
McLeod lists Cornes and Brisbane premiership player Shaun Hart – now the coaching director at Alberton – as his toughest rivals.
“They were similar players for the way they would cover you – and want to hurt you by having an influence on the game,” McLeod says.
“They were very diligent in their approach.”
Another tribute to Cornes is how McLeod admires the Port Adelaide veteran for not joining the list of hated taggers, in the ilk of Fremantle shadow Ryan Crowley, St Kilda specialist Steven Baker and Western Bulldog Tony Liberatore.
“There certainly was never any nastiness with Kane,” McLeod said. “As much as you would get frustrated – and think, ‘I should belt this guy’ – you could never do it with Kane. He is a nice guy. I came to appreciate that more when I’d meet him off the football field, like on radio at FIVEaa or Nova.
“At the end of our journey I think the battles were pretty even. They were great battles and I don’t think either of us would say one had it over the other. But I do know we left each of those battles with respect for each other.”
McLeod will not rule out the Power developing another 300-game player to join Cornes in the AFL’s exclusive halls of honour. But he doubts anyone, anywhere could follow Cornes’ path to the 300.
“Because that is a tough role to play – and Kane played it for a long, long period,” McLeod said. “He had to change his game, but he did make it because of his motor. He had fitness, he had ability and he was dedicated and methodical in his preparation.
“Kane’s made it to 300 because he made sure he would do everything needed to be a better player. The 300 is a testament to the way Kane goes about it. There’s not going to be too many who survive for as long on the same path.”
— Andrew McLeod (@bunji_XXIII) May 14, 2015
This article was originally published in The Advertiser, and can be accessed here.