Number 36 makes a return

by Ben Martin, Colac Herald

The partner of late Otway Districts captain Aaron Mahoney says she never envisaged the community reaction to seeing their son Toby make his CDFNL debut in his dad’s famous number 36 jumper.

Emma Craddock said it was an emotional time when the news blew up on social media on Saturday night, almost exactly nine years after Aaron died as a result of an underlying heart condition.

“For us, it’s always there and it’s always real and raw, you think other people move on,” Emma said.

“But seeing everyone sharing (the news of Toby wearing 36), and how happy they were, you realise that everyone still cares and remembers him,” she said.

The Otway Districts Football Netball Club retired Aaron’s number 36 following his tragic on-field death in May, 2015.

But the red-and-blue 36 was seen taking the field once again on Saturday morning during Otway’s under-14.5 clash against Simpson.

Toby, 9, earned a call-up for the clash, booting a goal and ranking among the best players in a 12.10 (82) to 2.0 (12) win.

Emma said under-14.5 coach Angus Zdrojewski had asked Toby if he was happy to fill in with a permit, after featuring in the Dees’ under-10 side the night before.

The youngster starred in his debut, booting a goal and featuring in the best players for his job in the forward pocket.

“Simpson has a heap of young kids as well so Toby wasn’t going to get beat up by big kids,” Emma said.

“He loved it, he just went for every ball as kids do, but he didn’t look out of place or scared,” she said.

“He said he was fine, he did say he got tackled, ‘but it didn’t hurt’, he told me.”

Emma said Otway had had the number 36 jumper set aside for Toby’s debut for years.

Toby was just eight months old when his dad died.

“We always gave him the option if he wanted to wear 36, and he said he did,” Emma said.

“I think (he understands the significance), once everyone started telling him about it,” she said.

“After the game I told him that his dad didn’t kick many goals and Toby started asking lots of questions about what position he played and that sort of thing.

“He knows his dad was pretty good at footy.

“He’s just pretty happy.”

Emma said it was a proud moment to see Toby running around in the 36 jumper.

But she said she hadn’t expected the news to blow up on social media on Saturday evening.

“Not at all,” she said.

“(Aaron’s mum) Sheryl put up a post on Facebook and then I did, and then the Herald did one.

“Then all of a sudden everyone started posting and sharing… that’s when it got a bit emotional.

“It meant a lot to everyone.”

Asked if Aaron would have been proud to see Toby make his debut, Emma said “definitely”.

“The way Toby just went out there and just played,” she said.

“He wasn’t really nervous, he was just happy to be out there.”