Cam McCarthy has no regrets about sitting out an entire year of football to relaunch his career with Fremantle and says he never expects to be good enough to completely replace club great Matthew Pavlich.
The man recruited to become the Dockers new spearhead has declared himself mentally strong and over the depression and anxiety adjustment disorder that triggered his decision to walk out on Greater Western Sydney last year to return home to WA.
In an exclusive interview with The Weekend West on the eve of his debut season for Fremantle, McCarthy denied feeling any pressure to carry the team’s forward line this season.
McCarthy’s importance to the Dockers’ forward structure is greater than ever with the club reeling from serious injuries to Hayden Ballantyne (hamstring) and Michael Apeness (knee), as well as the retirement of Shane Yarran.
The talented 21-year-old conceded Ballantyne was a massive loss, but said their attack could not afford to be a one-man team this season.
“I don’t really buy into it too much,” McCarthy said of his billing as Fremantle’s forward saviour.
“Obviously Matthew Pavlich, he’s a great servant of the club and has had an unbelievable career.
“As a Dockers fan growing up, he’s a king in real Dockers fans’ eyes. I wish him all the best, but there’s no way I’m going to be replacing those shoes.
“As long as I can just play my role for however many years, I’m happy with that.
“I wouldn’t say I’m one of the main talls.
“We’ve obviously got a great forward structure up there. Jonathon Griffin comes down there, Aaron Sandilands comes down. Shane Kersten is a wonderful player … it’s definitely not a one-man team at all.”
McCarthy showcased his considerable potential with a six-goal haul in this month’s 21-point JLT Community Series win over Carlton at Domain Stadium.
It was a rapid acceleration in his output after booting one goal across his first two pre-season hit-outs as a Dockers player.
McCarthy kicked 35 goals from 20 games in 2015 in his only full season at the Giants.
Still with just 21 AFL games to his name, he admitted to surprising himself with the breakout performance against Carlton, but predicted he would find the challenge far tougher in the home-and-away season.
He said a torturous pre-season had him feeling physically ready for their season opener against Geelong at Domain Stadium on Sunday week.
“Obviously I have no expectations on myself going into the season,” McCarthy said.
“My goal is just to play as much footy as I can.
“I’ve worked hard with Jason (Weber), the sports science coach, to get where I am. Obviously having a year off footy, I was a fair bit behind everyone else in terms of skinfolds.
“As a Dockers fan growing up, he’s a king in real Dockers fans’ eyes. I wish him all the best, but there’s no way I’m going to be replacing those shoes.”
“I’ve worked hard with my weights and just put on a bit more size and held that. To obviously keep my running capacity at a good level, I had to do a few extra sessions here and there, but it’s all going well.
“On the back of this game, I would say I’m feeling confident, but I guess AFL footy is another step up.”
McCarthy didn’t leave all of his conditioning until the pre-season.
During last year’s nine-month exile from football, the forward hired a personal trainer and used a boxing coach. His search for motivation extended to working at least two days a week as a teaching assistant.
McCarthy remains indebted to South Fremantle. He was allowed to complete three sessions of non-contact training each week with his old WAFL club to stay in reasonable shape.
The 2013 No.14 draft pick said he would not change the course of events despite his time in the football wilderness.
He returned home to Perth in January last year after his request to be traded to Fremantle at the end of the 2015 season in exchange for two first-round draft picks was blocked by GWS.
The Giants eventually agreed to a deal to send McCarthy to the club he supported as a child in last October’s trade period.
“There’s no regrets, but it was definitely hard to sit out a year and watch footy,” McCarthy said.
“I’d made some great mates at the Giants. I’ll always say I’m appreciative for them giving me an opportunity to play AFL footy and I’m forever grateful for that.
“They’ve got my career started by picking me up. I wish them all the best in the future.
“I’m mentally strong and I’m feeling really good. The year off did me a world of wonder. I’m just looking forward to getting stuck in with the boys.
“I’ve definitely found my love for footy again. It was tough sitting out, but the best thing to do for me personally and to go on with my footy was to come home to family and friends and to really assess where I was going to go from there.
“The Fremantle Dockers have been unreal. They’ve really opened arms to me. I’m just looking forward to getting started.”