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Friday September   1, 2006 AFL Opinion :: Nick Mockford

Farewell to an unheralded mountain

With Kangaroos and Collingwood stalwart Saverio Rocca set to play his last game when the two sides meet this Sunday, Nick Mockford reflects on a fine career.

Footy '06 @ Sports Australia Throughout the course of a career and a life, there will always be figures that leave an impression without meaning to. Theyíll come in, do their time and leave quietly out the back door with the minimum of fuss. Seemingly invisible to most, but important to some. Saverio Rocca is a shining example.

I remember the first time I saw him play. ANZAC Day 1995, in front of a packed MCG audience. Of course, I only watched the game on television, living in Adelaide at the time, and I was 10 years old, living and breathing football like many 10 year olds do.

He kicked nine, as Collingwood drew with Essendon with an audience of ninety-thousand. I often think itís lucky I was a loyal and somewhat unimpressionable child, or I probably would be a Magpies supporter today. Rocca manhandled Bombers fullback Dustin Fletcher that day, showing off a repertoire of high-flying marks and the prodigious kicking he would become most renowned for as the years went on.

But who really remembers that day, apart from Collingwood and Essendon fans?

Rocca has battled through a career peppered with lack of recognition and respect, quietly notching up a record that would be enviable to most. Of the thousands to step foot in the history of the VFL/AFL, only 11 have kicked more goals than the Kangaroo spearhead. Those 11 are all either in the Hall Of Fame or are certainties to be inducted, while the 13th, former Carlton great Stephen Kernahan, is widely regarded as a legend of the sport.

So why arenít Roccaís achievements tabled with the same enthusiasm as so many other forwards who have graced the sport? Is it success? He has only played in three career finals, and walked off a loser in each one. Is it the era he played his most abrasive football, in which the names Ablett, Lockett, Dunstall and Modra were all the rage? Both are distinct possibilities, but it still takes a lot to kick even one goal at the top level, let alone a lazy 745. Full-forward was the glamour position, and Sav was as spectacular as the best of them.

Maybe itís because, after more than a century of games, a best and fairest and seven leading goal-kicker awards in eight seasons at Victoria Park, Rocca was delisted. Not traded nor a parting of ways mutually, but dumped on a scrapheap that ruins reputations and shatters careers. None of those aforementioned 11 would have ever suffered such an indignity, but in a way, it sums up the man. No one shed a tear, and he sure as hell wouldnít have.

It barely raised a ripple when the Kangaroos picked him up in the draft at the end of 2000. It still hasnít in the cutthroat world of football and its media coverage, despite another hundred games and three more goal-kicking awards. Playing 100 games of football is a precious milestone achieved by a minimal percentage; to do it for two different clubs is remarkable.

Rocca is remarkable, and revolutionary. He has the frame of a wrestler, yet has taken some spectacular marks perched upon an opponents shoulder. His greatest legacy will likely be in coaching manuals, possessing arguably the finest kicking technique of them all. To see his right boot suspended next to his corresponding ear, with the resultant ball sailing astronomical distances, is one of the magnificent sights of the sport. Picture perfect they say, but who truly remembers a picture if it isnít a Picasso?

That booming right leg will in all likelihood make Rocca a rich man, with a career in the United States as a punter beckoning. Chances are heíll follow in the sizeable footsteps of former Demon Darren Bennett and Geelongís Ben Graham, both of whom have earned seven figure sums primarily through an ability to send a piece of pigskin into orbit. He probably wonít gather much acclaim overseas either, given punters spend most of the game on the sidelines, but that will be nothing new.

There are, of course, the moments that bring a smile, and thatís what Iíll remember. A gorilla of a man, Roccaís voice often doesnít travel much above pipsqueak; a soft tone delivering a humorous contrast to his stature. The police escort organized to whisk him from beside his pregnant wifeís bed to the Telstra Dome for last yearís Elimination Final against Port Adelaide Ė on Fatherís Day no less Ė and the subsequent roar when he took the ground. The final score was ugly, but the pre-game ruckus left no doubt as to the esteem he is held in the inner sanctum at Arden Street.

There was the first time he played against his former club, with brother Anthonyís late miss handing the Kangaroos a victory, and Sav the deciding goal. They say there is no room for romance in football, but it certainly seemed a token gesture from little brother to big, even without full intent.

2006 has been a testing year for the big man from North Reservoir-Lakeside, with every senior game compounded by a handful in the reserves. No doubt those in the VFL will have a blast playing with ĎBig Saví, and his commitment has been second to none, even if he hasnít deserved it by any stretch.

However, itís not just on the field where the best make their mark, and Roccaís standing amongst his teammates is enormous, both physically and mentally. After spending much of 2005 wondering whether he would get another contract, and eventually getting a one year tender, he was voted to the club leadership group by his peers. Admiration comes in many forms, but itís the respect from your teammates that means the most.

Which is where we come to now, and that is an unremarkable end to a remarkable career. It remains to be seen what the final result will be and what the final send off will entail (I certainly wouldnít want to be entrusted with carrying him off the ground Ė would you?), but even if he doesnít add to those 745 goals, heíll still have had arguably the most underrated career of them all.

Who knows if his son Matthew will ever forge a career in football; chances are heíll do his growing up surrounded by basketball rings and baseball bats, but reaching the 100-game milestone that enables his offspring to be eligible to the Kangaroos under the father-son rule is an afterthought. Itís about proving the naysayers wrong; not for retribution purposes, but for self-satisfaction. Rocca can sit back proudly, reflect on his achievements and say, I still had something to give and I proved that.

Prove it he did too, with the same emphasis of a trademark drop-punt.

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