Sport

To be frank, it was great

By Andrew Johnston

IT WASN’T a moment of sporting history; it was hardly a moment many, or any, of the 45,000 people at the weekend’s Essendon-North Melbourne game at Marvel Stadium would have even noticed.

But it was a moment Frank Howard will never forget.

The wheelchair-bound junior Echuca Moama Rocket had joined his Auskick teammates in forming a guard of honour at the race being used by Essendon, and as the giants of the game jogged back onto the field for the second half they were handing out high fives left and right.

But forward Jake Stringer, all 192cm of him, stopped beside the diminutive devotee for a brief chat about his day at the footy and his team.

Stringer had started his evening by donning bright orange footy boots to support children’s cancer group Challenge but seeing the all-abilities players lined up, with Frank the only one in a wheelchair, clearly struck a chord with the 122-game veteran.

The conversation was for their ears only as Stringer bent down to talk with Frank before joining the rest of his team on the field.

Essendon’s Irish import Conor McKenna also found time to stop and have a few words with Frank to complete his dream weekend – a trip to Melbourne, playing on an AFL ground before packed stands and wrapping it up with some ‘me time’ with two Bombers.

“The players were all running through and giving high fives and slapping hands with our players, but Jake stopped,” Rockets coach Mark McGann said.

“He took a few moments to talk to him, ask him how his game had been and have a bit of a chat with him as well,” he said.

“Then Conor McKenna stopped behind Jake and had a quick chat to Frank as well, which was a pretty special moment for him and for his buddy.”

It’s moments like these that cannot be scripted but which confirm the benefit of these experiences – and not just for the Rockets.

There would be little doubt Stringer and McKenna got almost as much out of being able to touch six-year-old Frank’s hand.

And his heart.

If that didn’t do it for you, then the spontaneous actions of able-bodied player Alfie Quinlan would have.

The 11-year-old was standing behind Frank and when Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti came along he reached over, gently took Frank’s arm and raised it up to reach the Tiwi Islander’s hand as he went past.

If you had the good fortune to see that most innocent and caring of actions, you would have certainly needed a tissue.