Merely a matter of months ago, Mason Cox’s AFL career looked to be over, with Collingwood’s Darcy Cameron emerging as the Robin to Brodie Grundy’s Batman and no place for the big American in the side.
Donning new prescription glasses to protect his eyes, Cox was in the papers for all the wrong reasons, being made a laughing stock for being the first one to wear shades during a football match.
Aside from the new appearance taken on by Cox, his footballing career looked to be in tatters, as he was struggling to make impact at the elite level on a consistent basis.
Former players Kane Cornes and Jonathon Brown both took their swings at the Texan, saying his time at the Pies is almost over.
“I think after the Brisbane Lions game where he was woeful that night up at the Gabba, I thought his days were numbered at the Collingwood Football Club. And I think people did internally as well,” Brown said On the Couch.
Around a similar time, Port Adelaide legend Kane Cornes questioned his ability on an AFL ground, alluding to the struggles Cox faced up forward.
“He’s been exposed when he’s been forward and at times has been a liability for Collingwood,” Cornes told Footy Classified.
“If you’re averaging seven touches in your last 10 (games) with three marks and you’re a forward, yeah I think questions over your performance should be there.”
Once given the opportunity early in the season by new coach Craig McRae, the 211cm ruck was unable to grab his chances and was sent back to the VFL for more instruction.
The unfortunate injury to All-Australian Grundy and recruit Nathan Kreuger meant there was a spot up for grabs in the senior side, however McRae initially opted for mid-season recruit (pick 18 2021) and youngster Aiden Begg, who impressed in his first outings as an AFL player.
Amid the selection frustrations, the American couldn’t avoid the media coverage around his prescription eyewear, which were deemed as a requirement by doctors if Cox was to continue playing AFL footy.
Cox bit back at those who ridiculed him, saying the culture of Australians may need a reality check.
“I think it’s a bit of Australia, to be honest, they don’t like anything that looks a bit different or doesn’t fit inside the box,” Cox said.
“Sorry I’m a bit too big to fit inside the box.
“Sometimes it’s actually still people in the media talking about it and saying some disgusting things about it to be honest.”
However, Cox’s determination resulted in impressive form in the VFL that saw an average of a goal a game, 34 hit-outs and 19 touches in a three-match stretch prior to being selected for the round 10 clash against Fremantle.
Subbed out with a finger injury in the Fremantle win, Cox was able to get up for the Carlton clash where he stood tall in defence and up forward, kicking a late goal, taking six marks and laying four tackles in a stellar performance.
This was backed up with 17 hit-outs in the wet against Hawthorn, using his physicality to help will the Pies over the line.
Collingwood’s fourth win on the trot was arguably his best game in 82 games, with Cox rising to the occasion against the reigning premiers Melbourne and staking his claims as a successful international product.
Collecting a career-high 21 disposals, eight marks and slotting an unlikely goal on the run from 50, Cox was surprisingly overlooked for best-on-ground in Collingwood’s major scalp.
Cox’s last month of football has been a symbol of the Magpies’ resurgence back into finals contention, as McRae’s men have defied the pre-season predictions of being a bottom-four side.
What has been the issue in the past for the 31-year-old is his consistency, with glimpses shown throughout his career what he can produce, especially on some of the bigger stages throughout the years.
Who could forget that 2018 preliminary final performance against reigning premiers Richmond?
Legendary broadcaster Bruce McAvaney put it brilliantly in the midst of the Magpies triumph against the Tigers on that fateful Friday night in 2018.
“What has Collingwood unleashed here? We’re seeing the future of the game, perhaps. It looks different, doesn’t it?”
And the first quarter in the 2020 elimination final against West Coast, piling on three consecutive goals against some of the best defenders in the league.
Or how about more recently Cox’s 2022 Queen’s Birthday, which was wrongly unrewarded with the Neale Daniher trophy and would’ve been his second during his see-sawing career.
It seemed that the bigger the stage, the bigger the show and in true American fashion, the 211cm regularly met the task.
In unique and breathtaking fashion, Cox has done everything differently including his size, shape and distinctive eye-wear which is a necessity for him to partake in our great game.
However, it seems that the American has turned toward greener pastures and looking more confident in his own ability, which filters through the entire team.
The Magpie faithful have always had the back of the now Australian citizen, despite the critics in his way and McRae couldn’t be more stoked with the way Cox has responded.
“It’s no secret we go a long way back and to see him grow as well – he’s got a lot of doubters – he shows he can play at the level and confidence at his best,” McRae told reporters after the Melbourne game.
“You can see him grow. He just gets taller and taller.
“I think he’s really bought in to what we’re trying to be.”
Collingwood currently sit in 9th position with an 8-5 win/loss record.
The Pies face GWS on Sunday and have the perfect opportunity at a finals tilt, with the next six matches against side below them on the ladder before facing Sydney, Melbourne and Carlton.