Tom Cole would swap his breakthrough AFL season with the West Coast Eagles, and his first finals appearance in the big league, to have his dad back.
Cole had been gearing up for the opening game of the season against Sydney when his family rang to say his father Russell, a well-known Seymour sporting name, was losing his battle with cancer.
He returned to Victoria to be with his family and his father in his final days.
After his father died, Cole and his sisters Brittany, Gabrielle and Darcey decided on a tribute to their father.
‘‘Sixty six is my old man’s footy number,’’ Cole said, revealing the new tattoo on his wrist.
‘‘He started playing in the twos in footy in his hometown when he was younger and when he got into the ones he just kept 66 the whole way through.
‘‘Then I’ve got the king (crown) just because he’s a king in my eyes and underneath is the date he passed away.
‘‘He hated tattoos, which is kind of ironic.
‘‘It’s just something I wanted to do. I never want to forget him, I never will.
‘‘But it’s just nice to pay tribute to him.’’
It has been a rollercoaster ride for Cole — from the trauma of losing his father at the start of the season to playing, and winning, finals football.
The Eagles held an energised Collingwood at bay at the weekend to win by 16 points and get a week off.
But the inked reminder on the inside of his right wrist provides some comfort to a young man who felt the biggest of losses far too soon.
While the year began with heartbreak for Cole, on-field he is enjoying his best season yet in his third year on the list.
The defender has played every game since breaking into the team in round five and in some ways, Cole’s successes in 2018 have only made Russell’s absence all the more difficult.
‘‘I wanted dad to see me play a lot of AFL games and this year, I’ve played 18 and it’s hard him not being here,’’ Cole said.
‘‘You get over it a little bit and finals was a new experience and something I really wanted him to see me do.
‘‘So it is hard but at the same time I’ve got plenty of things to focus on and dad’s always on my mind.
‘‘Everything that’s happened with dad — and everything my family has gone through — it’s really helped me mature and put things into perspective a little bit.
‘‘Death is not a good thing but it’s helped me see that life is bigger than football and where my priorities need to sit.
‘‘I think that’s really helped me play free of mind a little bit and not stress so much about footy and the rigours of AFL.’’
Cole said being surrounded by three sisters and mother Donna had been a huge support and agreed that strong influence all his life had shaped him in some ways and helped keep him grounded.
‘‘I wish I’d had a brother but I love my three sisters and they’ve been awesome this year with everything that’s happened,’’ Cole said.
Cole, who is Seymour co-coach Jason Cole’s cousin, grew up in Seymour before moving to Bendigo.
He said he was always more obsessed with basketball than football, and still counted NBA superstar LeBron James as one of his heroes.
‘‘Football was kind of in the background a bit,’’ Cole said.
‘‘My favourite player was Matthew Richardson because I was a Tigers supporter but I didn’t really model my game on anyone. I just tried to go out there and have fun.
‘‘The Tigers weren’t very successful when I barracked for them and then as soon as I got drafted they won a flag a couple of years later.’’
Cole is contracted to West Coast until the end of 2019 and can see no reason why he would want to leave.
The transition to Perth was a smooth one and he has a tight group of mates at the club.
And right now he’s got September glory in his sights.
‘‘You’ve always got to dare to dream but for now we’ll just take it one week at a time and see who we play next week.’’
— The West Australian