Rough leaves with a legacy as grand as any

Perhaps my enduring memory of Jarryd Roughead will differ from most. It will not be of the premierships or finals wins that he contributed so much towards, marks of a golden era of the footy club he emboldened for so long. Nor will it be of his courageous fight to return to the field, after multiple cancer scares heightened the burden of uncertainty in his life.


What I always seem to revert to when contemplating the career of Roughead is a Saturday afternoon in the autumn of 2009, a fixture against Carlton at the MCG. Maybe it is a form of bias, a memory boldened simply due to the fact that I sat in the stands that day, and witnessed a match in which the young Hawk truly announced himself.


Of course, Roughead had already established himself as a player of supreme talent before that day: both a premiership medallion and 75-goal campaign had been obtained the year before, and in the eyes of most he sat as a potential star of the competition.


He booted eight goals that day – a career high that he would never better – and moreover resembled the kind of supreme talent that his pal Lance Franklin had demonstrated the season prior. Up the other end, Brendan Fevola matched the tally himself, and almost unfathomably stole the match for the Blues.


To that point he had been a worthy sideshow to the brilliance that was Buddy, but that match seemed to signify a shift in thought towards Roughy, a sense that perhaps what we had with the large lad from Leongatha was another generational talent, and one that may one day supersede his freakish running mate.


It feels like just yesterday that he and his club were ascending into their golden era, but his retirement announcement this week still brought that dreaded feeling of loss, despite the writing having been on the wall for much of this season. It delivered the obvious sense of sadness, both to followers of his footy club as well as the game as a whole I think. His honest, country-boy disposition warmed him to many, as did the natural ability that belied the physical presence he took to the field.


The greatest testament to Roughead as a player was that his 6’3, 100kg frame didn’t consign him to the depths of either end of the ground – he could play anywhere. His natural habitat was of course roaming the forward 50, but many forget he started his career as a centre half back, before his influence was deemed wasted in stopping goals. He became a bit of a swingman under Alastair Clarkson; similar to Shaun Burgoyne, in that his presence was placed wherever it was most keenly required.


As a key forward, he was as damaging as anyone. His Coleman Medal is a nod to his goal scoring endeavours, but he was the complete package as a forward-line terror: a sound mark of the football, either at full-tilt on the lead or plucking the ball from a clutch of hands with his spring-heeled leap, or swooping on balls that hit the deck, and turning his opponent so effortlessly before performing that fluent left-foot snap.


This one-touch ability below his knees was perhaps an aspect of his game that was always under-ackowledged. It was a gift that set Roughead apart from the contemporary key-forward, a natural cleanness and creativity with the footy in hand. Sharing a forward-line for years with the likes of Cyril Rioli, Luke Breust and Paul Puopolo, Roughead was as nimble and crafty as any of them, a fact that contributed to an almighty scoring punch that punctuated the premiership years.


The Age columnist and former teammate Tim Boyle wrote in his reverie of Roughead prior to his 250th game of his desire to lead Hawthorn’s mode of play during their three-peat era, a selfless style that encouraged the constant tapping or knocking of the ball to the advantage of teammate without taking possession of the footy: “‘From the start of his career, Rough never worried about stats like other players’ said (Sam) Mitchell. He was the guy at Hawthorn who drove that style we had of tapping the ball to a teammate’s advantage. We never really trained it, but he led the way'”.


As a career narrative, the premierships will of course define his football tale. A player is fortunate in being drafted to a club that falls into a window that allows them to perennially challenge for silverware. But Roughead’s influence, along with that of a handful of talented others, was ultimately the key in ensuring the Hawks sat at the top for as long as they did.


He remarked during his retirement press conference during the week that the 2014 triumph was his favourite of the bunch, a victory that imparted some sense of revenge for the loss of 2012. It is perhaps not coincidental that it was also the best of his five grand final appearances, his five goals on that day a haul that has not been bettered by anyone since on the grandest day in the game.


But all that exists as mere memory now. He gave us all he had Rough, and will leave the game with a CV the envy of any. He leaves, too, with admiration of footy lovers great and small. It’s a fair legacy to leave behind.


Our writers are independent contributors. The opinions expressed in their articles are their own. They are not the views, nor do they reflect the views, of Malarkey Publications.


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