More than a little licence has been applied to the story about Dean Cox’s first pre-season training session for the West Coast Eagles during the summer at the turn of this century.
It was at City Beach Oval and then coach Ken Judge wondered out aloud about the capacity of Cox possessing the athletic qualities to succeed at football’s highest level.
It wasn’t as if Cox could not run at all, but he was a long way off the pace (and endurance) required to cope with the physical demands at the elite level. That was hardly surprising because the angular young man from Dampier had never engaged in an elite training program.
Indeed, natural ability had been enough for him to more than cope with the various levels he had scaled to that point of his fledgling career. He had not completed a rigorous pre-season anywhere.
That summer training run, alongside some of the best athletes in the country, was completely foreign to him. It gave him an insight into just how much work he had in front of him if he was to fulfil his ambition of playing in the AFL.
Cox, looking to win a place on the Eagles’ rookie list, stood 203cm. He had that on his side. He also had football pedigree in his corner. His mother Mary was a Michalczyk. And it seemed anyone with that lineage could play the game. Uncles Richard (East Perth and North Melbourne) and George (East Perth and West Perth) among them.
Tall and gangly, Cox also bore a link to another of his keen interests, horse racing. He was the personification of an unbroken colt.
Track watchers might have been a little concerned about his capacity to make the grade after his less-than-inspiring start, but in a few short years a perceived deficiency became one of his greatest assets.
And he evolved into one of the truly great players on the game. The word champion is too freely foisted upon very good players.
But Cox is a champion. Few men can lay claim to changing the way the game is played.
Graham “Polly” Farmer did it in the 60s and 70s with his exquisite use of the handball; Cox’s influence essentially made the lumbering ruckman obsolete. He did more around the ground than any other big men, becoming the Eagles’ fourth midfielder.
In conjunction with Chris Judd, Ben Cousins and Daniel Kerr he formed a much-feared engine room.
Tonight he assumed his place among the game’s true champions, inducted into the AFL Hall of Fame.
He was every bit as influential as any player in the modern era; as essential to the Eagles structure in the mid-2000s as Judd, who also remoulded the midfield prototype. Together with Cousins and Kerr they formed a unit that rivalled the marvellous Brisbane quartet of Simon Black, Michael Voss, Nigel Lappin and Jason Akermanis who piloted their club to three successive premierships and another grand final between 2001-2004.
Cox, the awkward teenager who lobbed at Eagles training after playing in an East Perth colts premiership, is now the club’s games record holder at 290.
He is a six-times all-Australian, won the John Worsfold Medal in 2008 and was runner-up in 2012. A measure of his consistency is that in the decade between 2004 and 2013 he finished outside the top eight in Club Champion Award voting just once – that was in 2009 when a groin injury limited him to just 13 games.
Of course, the pinnacle of his achievements was being a part of the 2006 premiership, a triumph immortalised by the moment the final siren reverberated around the MCG with Cox standing triumphant, both arms stretching skyward in celebration.
That iconic picture every bit as poignant as Chris Mainwaring leaping off the bench to signal the club’s maiden premiership in 1992.
He is a big character, in size, character and, more broadly, in the game. He deserves to stand alongside football’s finest.