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The ‘helmet boys’ stick together

When Paddy McCartin flew toward Neville Jetta with reckless abandon in Round 7, Angus Brayshaw felt a familiar feeling.

The contact, which would eventually lead to the 22-year-old enduring his seventh concussion, was so severe that both McCartin and Jetta were left laid out on the Etihad Stadium turf.

Feeling concerned, Brayshaw sent his contemporary a text message post-game, which has become a tradition between two of the top three selections from the 2014 National Draft.

Long before they would play against each other on the biggest stage of all, Brayshaw and McCartin were reciting movie lines from Step Brothers, Dodgeball, Happy Gilmour and Billy Madison while going through the AIS Academy together.

They first met in Year 10 as school footy rivals, and then progressed to facing off in the under-18s, before getting to know each other in the AIS setup. “Paddy hasn’t changed one bit since I’ve known him,” Brayshaw says. “We used to talk a lot of mud.”

On the eve of the 2014 draft, McCartin, Brayshaw and future No. 2 selection Christian Petracca headed to the Gold Coast together, and spent many a moment picturing what their respective AFL journeys could look like, while enjoying the sights of the beaches and the various theme parks the town has to offer.

It was well documented that Paddy and Christian were the consensus top two, with Brayshaw looking a near certainty to fall just after.

“I knew I was going to Melbourne, whereas those two were either going one or two,” Brayshaw recalls. “The three of us used to chat about the possibilities because we knew that two of us would end up playing together, and we discussed how awesome that prospect could be.”

In Round 4 of the 2016 VFL season, Brayshaw suffered his first concussion at the professional level. Casey were facing Essendon, and somewhat unluckily, he was concussed from the football making contact with his head.

Eager to make sure he was fine, McCartin got in touch with him, sparking a tradition the two have carried out through 11 concussions between them.

“My first one was the first for both of us, and he sent me a message after that,” Brayshaw said. “When he had his I reached out and said, ‘I know what you’re going through.’”

It can be easy to overlook the effect these injuries can have on the immediate family.

The trauma of seeing their boys go through such brutal injuries has been difficult to take for the Brayshaws and the McCartins.

Angus’ mum, Debra, and Paddy’s mum, Jo, knew each other a little due to their sons’ encounters as junior players and through the AFL pathway programs, which led to Jo reaching out for advice.

Upon receiving a message from Jo McCartin, Angus’ father Mark, who is a big believer in the, ‘Why would you text someone when you can just call them’ philosophy, instructed Debra to get on the phone.

Debra had previously undertaken hypnotherapy, designed to take away negative emotions, stemming from watching Angus play post his head traumas and the worrying feelings it conjures.

“Mum had a lot of trouble watching me while I was coming back for fear of it happening again,” Angus remembers. “Hypnotherapy helps to stay relaxed and positive. It helped my mum deal with what she was going through when I was coming back, and Paddy’s mum is going through similar stuff.”

Perhaps what has helped these two to be so resilient is their happy-go-lucky personas. Angus still cracks jokes about his memory ‘not being the strongest,’ and Paddy has been described as ‘upbeat and positive’ by those around him, but there’s no question the consistent run of bad luck would get even the most glass-half-full character down.

Upon suffering his most recent setback against Melbourne, McCartin’s frustration boiled over, which is more than understandable.

For the first time in his young AFL career, he’d played more than four consecutive games, and was looking destined to string a consistent run of performances together after playing the first seven matches in 2018.

Desperate for things to change, McCartin followed Brayshaw’s lead and opted for the headgear.

And while Paddy reached out to Angus and discussed the latter’s experiences with protective gear, it is a uniquely individual decision to make.

With little to any scientific evidence to suggest helmets will lessen the likelihood of concussion, both McCartin and Brayshaw referred back to the placebo effect of just having something on their head, when making the call.

As for how long they will stick with the helmets remains to be seen, but when they face off in three weeks, Angus hopes Paddy is still rocking the lid.

“We have to stick together all the helmet boys. If the helmets are still there [when we play], we’ll sort out getting a photo.” But he refused to admit who looked better, “I’m the last person to talk about how people look,” he joked. “My head has been beaten out of shape from all the head knocks, so I won’t be giving him any stick any time soon.”