Jason McCartney’s amazing comeback after the tragedy of the Bali bombing

Jason McCartney had been a successful AFL footballer for 11 seasons across three clubs (Collingwood, Adelaide and North Melbourne) when he made an end-of-season trip to Bali in October 2002. His life changed in an instant when he became a victim of the Sari nightclub bombing. He was drinking at the nearby Paddy’s Bar.

McCartney was one of 209 people that were badly injured in the blast, suffering second-degree burns to more than 50% of his body. A further 202 people died in the attack, including 88 Australians. McCartney himself almost died during surgery afterwards, but not before trying to help others who were injured. He was awarded an Order of Australia medal for his selfless efforts.

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What kept him going in his darkest hours

McCartney had two goals during his rehabilitation:

  1. To marry his fiancée, and
  2. To get back to playing top-level AFL football for North Melbourne.

He achieved his first goal just two months after the Bali bombings.

Achieving his second goal though was more challenging. After months of painful rehabilitation, he played seven games with Port Melbourne in the second-tier VFL competition, overcoming a thigh injury in the process. Then he was selected for the North Melbourne Kangaroos in June 2003 for their match against Richmond at Docklands Stadium.

One match was all he needed

In a truly moving moment in Australian sport, McCartney took the field heavily bandaged to protect his injuries. He also wore gloves and a long-sleeved jersey which poignantly featured the numbers 88 and 202. These two numbers reflected the number of Australians and the total number of people who died in the Bali attack, respectively.

His fairy-tale comeback script couldn’t have been written any better. McCartney kicked a goal early in the final quarter, and later handballed to teammate Leigh Harding who kicked the winning goal with just seconds remaining.

The toll that the whole Bali ordeal had taken on him though was evident when he announced his immediate retirement on the ground during the post-match interview.

“Physically, my body’s still healing and it needs a rest, and mentally it’s been hard carrying the hopes of the nation,” he said. ‘…..I think I’ve used up every inch of my determination through my fitness and I suppose mental effort and I find it fitting now that I’ll hang the boots up as of tonight and go out on a great note.”

His captain Glen Archer revealed just how determined McCartney had been and how inspiring he was. “I saw him in the hospital when he came back – I thought he was going to die in front of me. To see where he is now – even now when you see him in the showers with all his gear off, the scars are just unbelievable – and for him to go out and play footy tonight and kick us a goal and set up that one at the end was just unbelievable.”

McCartney was chaired off the field by his teammates and received a standing ovation from the crowd on a memorable night not just for Australian sport, but for Australia in general.

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