Tagger Macaffer getting the job done

Brent Macaffer3“You are just a useless scrubber running around, following someone.”

That’s what Hawthorn’s Jordan Lewis screamed out to Brent Macaffer as the Magpie tagger worked through his battle with the dangerous Bradley Hill last weekend.

It brought a smile to Macaffer’s face. Far from being slighted by the comment, one of many he encounters on the field, the driven midfielder knows words such as those are a sure sign he is doing his job.

Hill had his say, too. During the first quarter when the young Hawk with electrifying speed and an ever-improving engine was causing some early damage, he teased Macaffer with: “I hope you’ve got your running boots on today … I’m not going to stop.”

Macaffer didn’t stop either and he managed to keep Hill to only 14 touches — the Hawk’s lowest return of an otherwise impressive season.

“I sort of tried not to laugh (when Lewis made his comment),” Macaffer said this week as he prepared for his next run-with role against Carlton tonight, most likely on Marc Murphy.

“You hear all sorts of things on the football field, but I don’t care if people say that I am just a tagger.”

What he is less keen on is when he hears the umpires conversing at the start of a game, speaking among themselves about which player Macaffer has gone to.

In the week after his blanket job on Richmond’s Trent Cotchin in Round 4, which thrust his tagging into the limelight, the 26-year-old Magpie heard the umpires say: “Macaffer has gone to (Nick) Dal Santo.”

“I’ve heard that in previous games, too,” Macaffer said. “They might say, ‘Macaffer has gone to (Jobe) Watson’, or something like that. I usually think to myself, ‘What about all the other guys who are getting tagged?’.”

Macaffer plays as if his life depends on it. In a footy sense, he says that’s a fair assessment.

A one-time full-forward in the TAC Cup’s best team of 2006; an AFL debutant by the age of 21 via the rookie draft; and a Collingwood 2010 premiership player a year later; Macaffer has morphed into one of the game’s best taggers, thanks to a career-change designed by coach Nathan Buckley last year.

“You can call me a tagger,” Macaffer said, preferring that term to what other like-minded players might euphemistically call a “run-with” role.

“It’s tagging, that’s what it has traditionally be called, and that’s what it is. I’ve got no problem saying that.

“Sometimes you might get sledged about it, but that only makes me more determined to do my job and stop my opponent from getting one kick, let alone 15 or 20.”

Macaffer is a sports nut, who has a passion for football (he watches six or seven games per week as well as all the analysis shows), basketball (he’s an LA Clippers fan), cricket (he loved the Australian teams from yesteryear but one of his favourites was Pakistan’s Shahid Afridi), and tennis (particularly during the Australian Open).

As a massive consumer of the sports media, Macaffer would love to develop a role for himself in the future. He has already done one game as a special comments man with ABC Radio and would love to do more.

He lives and breathes the game he plays. “It depends on when we are playing, but if we happen to play on a Friday night, I will try to watch all of the games on Saturday, Saturday night and Sunday,” he said.

“Everyone is different. Guys like Swanny (Dane Swan) and Beamsy (Dayne Beams) can switch off as soon as the games are over. But I go home and watch the replay. I like to analyse every little kick my opponent has had, and I will be spewing on it for the rest of the night.”

Macaffer went home after last week’s game against Hill — having recorded close to a personal best with his GPS levels — and watched the game once more, almost falling asleep in exhaustion.

He wasn’t prepared for when he became part of the news immediately after the clash with Cotchin this year.

“I couldn’t understand the fuss,” Macaffer said. “I suppose the frustration he (Cotchin) showed towards the end of the game meant the media sort of picked up the story.

“I went to recovery the next morning and there were cameras all around, asking me questions. It was interesting watching people on TV saying that I was holding and scragging.

“I honestly don’t feel like I was doing anything wrong. There were a couple of free kicks paid, but it was just my body positioning and me trying to hold my ground.”

Macaffer insists that the media attention hasn’t changed the way he approaches his role, even if he now tries to keep his girlfriend and his family away from any criticism he might face.

Ask him about where his career would be if Buckley hadn’t sat him down before a St Kilda game last year and asked him to take on a tagging role and he’s brutally frank.

“It’s fair to say I probably wouldn’t be here now,” the meticulous midfielder said. “I know that and I think Bucks would have known that.

“It took me a bit by surprise because we hadn’t really played with a tagger, but I knew this gave me my chance to nail down a spot in the team.

“That’s why I am so competitive about it now. I know that if I have a bad game, I don’t want to string it out to two or three bad games, because I will be straight out.

“I want to be here for the next five or six years and enjoy the success that I think this team is going to have in that time.”

It helps that Macaffer has always been a competitive beast — whether it was in a simple game of Monopoly as a kid or in his now epic NBA 2K14 PlayStation 4 battles with Scott Pendlebury.

From the final siren of each game, he is already focusing on his next opponent. He and assistant coach Scott Burns run through a few likely opponents in the rooms after a game.

Then he does research during the week before receiving a text message from Burns after the main match committee meeting with his designated opponent.

From that moment on, he sets to work on his target, and will stop at nothing at preparing his body and mind for the task ahead.

Buckley is delighted with the way Macaffer approaches his football, and insists his teammates can still do more to assist him in his role.

“He is a proud and valuable member of the team,” Buckley said. “We can help him out more than we do (out on the field) and that’s an area we are getting better at.

“We’ve thrown some match-ups that have really challenged him, but he loves that.”

Macaffer might cop a few verbal barbs from opponents and their teammates on the field, but there is little doubt he has become one of Collingwood’s most important players for the role that he has thrived on.