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Shadow made Bunji jump

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.”

AFL 2008 Rd 16 - Port Adelaide v Adelaide

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.”

This article was originally published in The Advertiser, and can be accessed here.