The return of Majak Daw undoubtedly made North Melbourne a better side and added the X-Factor the Shinboners have been desperately lacking. And it could go a long way to securing him a contract extension.
Majak Daw’s emotional return to AFL could have been a worthy end point to a courageous comeback just like Jason McCartney before him.
McCartney hung up the boots that glorious night aware he had nothing left in the tank.
But behind the emotion of Daw’s remarkable comeback after nearly ending his own life was a performance that showed he might just be getting started.
In 2018, Daw ranked second in contested marks behind Jeremy McGovern from Round 3 onwards as he found his niche as an intercepting defender.
Now, Daw might contend with Levi Casboult and Aliir Aliir as football’s most versatile player.
Against Adelaide he started as a key forward, spent time roaming the ground as a ruck and then marched forward again to kick that emotional goal.
He took the second-most intercept marks on the ground, was targeted six times inside 50 (second for the game) and thrilled Rhyce Shaw with his strong tap-work and second efforts in close.
North Melbourne will want to see more of that to hand him another contract for 2021 but Daw, 30 next March, gives this side so much versatility and flexibility.
Todd Goldstein had spent the previous three games playing 100 of 105 minutes, 93 of 97 minutes and 97 of 102 minutes.
Against Adelaide he roamed around as the game’s best player playing just 86 of 108 minutes, perfectly fresh to take on Geelong in four days’ time instead of run ragged.
The challenge now for Daw is to channel Goldstein’s fitness.
His pectoral injury held him back this year, but he has also taken months to get back to full fitness, Daw interchanged seven times yesterday as a burst player.
He will need to show he can build on that 70 per cent game time to ensure he’s part of the club’s plans next season.
Former North Melbourne midfielder Nick Dal Santo told the Herald Sun yesterday if Daw needed more consistency he was still capable of feats not many were capable of in the AFL.
“He has changed his game. He has improved his ability to read the ball and he wasn’t always able to do that before,” he said.
“Even those intercept marks, it is stuff he hasn’t been able to do consistently.
“He just gives them a different look. He helps Goldstein, he helps the forward line by soaking up a key defender and he gives them a choice to do something different with Nick Larkey or Cam Zurhaar or Robbie Tarrant.
“It allows the dominos to fall differently for other blokes.”
There is no greater live kill at present than an Adelaide side rebuilding and on its knees because of injuries to key players.
But in Daw’s performance yesterday there was a strong argument that he has been exactly what they have been missing amid a barren losing stretch.
MAJAK SPEAKS AFTER EMOTIONAL RETURN
One of footy’s greatest stories played out on Metricon Stadium Saturday and the man at the centre of it, Majak Daw, was just excited to finally be back in Kangaroos colours after more than 700 days.
Speaking after North’s dominant win over the Crows, Daw said everything he had been through since his horrific 25m December 2018 fall off Melbourne’s Bolte Bridge had been worth it for this moment.
“It’s been two years since I played and there’s no better feeling than winning, but I think over the past few years, the battles I’ve gone through, it’s worth it, winning with your teammates, my family at home watching,” Daw said on Fox Footy.
The 29-year-old, who kicked an inspirational goal that sent his teammates into rapture, paid tribute to those who had helped him recover from the hip and pelvis injuries that threatened his career.
“I haven’t been able to do it by myself, there’s been so many people involved, the footy club has been amazing, the wider public, even when I was in hospital, the hospital staff there they looked after me.
“I was pretty strong early on and the support of the club, the club doctors, the psychs who have worked with me, the strength and conditioning staff — I told them ‘this is what I want to do, I want to come back and play’, so they backed me in and they helped me get here.
“It was tough at stages, a few injuries here and there, hammy, pec, but nothing beats playing AFL footy and that’s why I wanted to do it so much.
“To everyone back home in Victoria, they’re doing it pretty tough at the moment, so to our supporters I hope this win means something to you.”
Daw, whose partner Emily McKay gave birth to a little boy, Hendrix, during his recovery.
“I want to make special mention for my little boy at home, little Hendrix, I wish he was up here with me,” he said.
“He’s 1 at the end of August, it’s going to be tough because he’s at home.
“Emily, she’s been great, she’s looking after him at the moment, my mum and dad, they’ve been chopping me out, babysitting, so we’ve got a lot of support at home.”
Daw said he was hoping to kick a goal on his return and he did have a crack earlier in the match, but fell short, later lighting up the ground in the final term with a 35m set shot.
“I was trying to chase a goal all day,” he said.
“I tried to kick one from outside 50, that was outside my range, but it was just so good to kick a goal and to celebrate and get the boys going.”
His Kangaroo teammates couldn’t run quickly enough to celebrate with him.
“It was just so special to do that for Majak,” former housemate Luke McDonald said.
“It just shows that life is bigger than football and I was just so proud of him.
“It has been a tough road for Maj and for him to play the way he did and get that goal, it was just a perfect moment.”
Up in the coaches box Rhyce Shaw said he knew the moment was coming, but that didn’t take away from how special it was.
“I think as a coach and a coaching staff when you see Maj kick a goal and all the boys get around him that is genuine and that is what we are about at our footy club,” Shaw said.
“We were just waiting for it, because it was such a special moment. we knew it was coming at some point and he wouldn’t miss because he is such a deadeye shot at goal.”