There were emotional scenes at the Adelaide Oval on Saturday afternoon as North Melbourne’s Ben Cunnington returned to AFL action for the first time in more than a year.
The Kangaroos midfielder has survived two bouts of testicular cancer that have kept him out of the AFL since he last played in round 19 last year — 385 days ago.
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Cunnington, a two-time North best and fairest, addressed his teammates during the week and spoke about his battle and the support from his family and the club that helped him fight his way back.
It has been a long and emotional journey back to senior football for the 31-year-old, who was seen soaking up the moment by himself in the middle of Adelaide Oval before North’s clash with the Crows.
And many footy fans would have shed a tear watching Cunnington embrace his partner and walked out onto the field with his three children.
Cunnington took a few deep breaths as she ran through the banner.
The Herald Sun’s Lauren Wood said it would be “tough to top for footy’s moment of the year”.
Broadcaster Chad Ryan tweeted: “Bloody powerful stuff. F*** cancer. So glad to have Cunnington back.”
Peter Hooley said: “Man, who’s cutting onions. Love every little thing about this. Go well Cunners.”
Cunnington finished with 17 disposals and three clearances in a solid performance.
The Crows spoiled his return, pushing ahead in the last quarter to claim a 103 (15.14) to 74 (10.14).
Dual premiership-winning Kangaroo David King said it was “so good” to see Cunnington back playing for North.
“Just really rapt to see him back out there and wearing the jumper,” he said on Fox Footy.
“Things look right for the Kangaroos when he’s out there.
“I think he’s been the Kangaroos’ best player since the turn of the century. This guy’s impact on football has been phenomenal for us.”
“You think you might be done with the game but until it gets taken away from you, you quickly realize how much you do love it,” Cunnington told Fox Footy post game.
“To get another opportunity to play, I couldn’t be more appreciative and grateful.”
“Even though we lost I can’t stop smiling, I’m just trying to appreciate it right now.”