Alex McKinnon overwhelmed by outpouring of emotion on return to Hunter Stadium
Alex McKinnon was back where he felt most comfortable, in the sanctum of the Knights dressing sheds alongside his mates, a broad grin on his face.
It didn’t matter that the Knights had tossed up one of their worst performances of the season in a 22 8 loss to the Gold Coast Titans at Hunter Stadium.
The result was secondary for McKinnon the 22 year old back rower from Aberdeen who was left in a wheelchair after a tackle went horribly wrong against the Storm four months earlier.
”Macca is still in there with a smile on his face,” Knights second rower Jeremy Smith said describing an otherwise sombre mood in the Knights rooms.
The 26,401 faithful a season high responded with a standing ovation and steady applause.
McKinnon wiped away tears as the crowd chanted ”Alex, Alex, Alex.” then ”Newcastle, Newcastle, Newcastle.”
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A city united: The people of Newcastle turned out in force to show their support for Alex McKinnon. Photo: Jonathan Carroll
”I’m not one to take publicity. I didn’t really know how I was going to handle it to tell you the truth. It was pretty full on. I was trying to hold everything back”, McKinnon said.
”At the end of the day, the true person in myself came out. A few tears and that, you can’t help that, I was just very overwhelmed by the support. I get support from my mates and Wayne and the club all the time. This situation shows that everybody comes out and they care. Maybe they have been touched by what has gone on.
”I’m very thankful that I have everyone’s support.”
Strong and positive about his recovery, McKinnon’s minor meltdown was a rare outpouring.
”It’s the first time I’ve seen him with a tear since it’s all happened, other than the first 24 hours,” Knights coach Wayne Bennet said.
It wasn’t just the Knights fans and players who were moved, many to tears.
”I think we were pretty good until Alex was with the Knights boys when they came out at the start,” Titans captain Nate Myles said.
”Seeing him come down [the corridor] from the other side of the stadium, took me back a bit.
”Then when we got out on the field it hit me again.”
McKinnon’s stirring appearance was centrepiece of the NRL’s Rise For Alex round. A moment to savour on a long road ahead.
A moment where a city, a region, a sport showed hiw much they cared. Not just by their words but by dipping into their pockets.
A bucket collection and sale of Rise For Alex wristbands at the ground yesterday added $30,000 to the fund raising effort which has moved past $1.1 million. There were tales of kids breaking open their piggy bank to make donations. The big end of town chipped in led by the NRL and Fox Sports.
Knights legend Andrew Johns summed it up on the Footy Show on Thursday night.
”When the city is down they look to the footy team for a lift,” Johns said. ”When thy footy teams is down they rely on the town to lift them. On this occasion both have come together for a single cause.”
Hunter Stadium was transformed into a sea of red and blue.
In among the Knights diehards were kids and parents in club jerseys from Scone, Branxton, Kurri, East Maitland, Nelson Bay and of course Aberdeen, McKinnon’s junior club.
Aberdeen, is a small mining community 90 minutes north west of Newcastle is a proud league town where the local footy oval is named after McKinnon’s grand father. A place where the red headed back rower is idolised even more so now.
”Everyone’s support and everyone’s message, it does hit home for me,” McKinnon said.
”I’m very thankful. That’s all I can say. I’m just happy to be back in Newcastle, happy to be back at the stadium. You never think four months ago you go away to a game in round three. and you wouldn’t come back for four months. I’m very happy to be back here.”