It was nearly 13 years to the day that the Western Bulldogs finished last at the conclusion of the home and away season, handing the Bulldogs their first wooden spoon since 1982. It was a horrible year for the fans, having to endure a season where the club only managed three wins and a draw throughout the entire year.
One of the rare positives that came out of that year was the fact that the Bulldogs had earned the rights to the number one overall pick in the AFL draft. With this pick, they eventually went on to select a kid with curly blond locks from West Adelaide in the SANFL. This kid was Adam Cooney, and from the moment I saw his face, his hair and his talent, I had found a successor to my favourite Western Bulldogs player for when Chris Grant eventually retired.
It wasn't a particuarly stacked draft in terms of talent, but Cooney, along with Andrew Walker – who went at number two, were the picks of the draft bunch this year. Cooney was classified as a midfielder who was blessed with exceptional pace and his ability to break the lines was second to none. Astonishingly, this was the only thing the Dogs did right this off-season, after making a number of mistakes with other draft picks. They used their fourth overall pick to select Farren Ray, who was considered a draft bust by many AFL experts and sent him away to St. Kilda at the end of the 2008 season.
They traded away their 19th overall pick to Fremantle in exchange for Steven Koops, who had played 78 games for the Dockers at that point, but were better off holding onto the pick, as the Dockers ended up selecting David Mundy, who as we all know now, captains Fremantle and has built himself a very solid career. Give me Mundy over Koops any day. But the trade that was almost unforgivable was the one that saw the Bulldogs sending Mark Alvey and pick six to Essendon in a three-way deal with Hawthorn that saw the Dogs gain unknown youngster Lochlan Veale and the rights to select Jade Rawlings from Hawthorn, If the Doggies had kept their four picks inside the top 20, this would be an entirely different story, probably a story for the better.
But as for Cooney, he was the Bulldogs' prized selection that year and was destined for a debut in their season opener the following year. He eventually got that debut in 2004. Round one in a home game against West Coast. He only managed eight disposals and kicked a goal on debut and had showed bits and pieces of potential, but unfortunately the Dogs lost the match in a shootout. It was the story for most of his debut season as he only managed an average of 11 disposals a game in 19 games this season, but as the season was coming to an close, he had begun to emerge as a serious, averaging 25 disposals in the last three games, warranting a NAB Rising Star nomination in round 21 in the Doggies' win over North Melbourne. eventually finishing equal-fourth in the final voting, with Melbourne's Jared Rivers taking home the award, but I knew that the Bulldogs had nailed their biggest selection at pick one.
The following year was 2005, and with a new coach saw a much improved version of Adam Cooney, taking his disposal average from 11 a game to just under 20 a game, with the crowd chanting 'COOOONS' anytime he got his hands on the ball. He had a game where he had 20 disposals or more 11 times, and played every game that year. Unfortunately, the Dogs missed finals that year by half a game.
But it wasn't before long that Cooney's talents were recognised nation-wide, as over the next couple of years, he would prove to be one of the headline stars of the Western Bulldogs. He was frequently amongst the team's top possession getters, and his brilliant use of the ball would set many a team mate up for goal, and if he wasn't setting them up, he was kicking them, evening winning games off his own boot. A prime example was round 20, 2006 that saw the Dogs take on the top-of-the-table Adelaide Crows in a game that many thought the Dogs had no chance in toppling the Crows at the MCG. However, led by Cooney's five goals and 33 disposals, they did beat Adelaide in a shocking upset.
However, it will be the 2008 season that not only Bulldog fans will think fondly, but Adam Cooney fans like myself. Not only did the Bulldogs jump from bottom four in 2007 to the top four in 2008, but Adam Cooney became the first Brownlow medallist since Scott Wynd in 1992, and the first number one overall draft pick to win the prestigious award. It was also the night that he told the nation about how he'd proposed to his now wife Haylea with a Burger Ring in what could be one of the funniest proposals ever heard.
But from the moment he won the Brownlow, Cooney's life got flipped upside down, but at 23 years of age, he was one of the young stars of this competition. In the 2008 qualifying final against Hawthorn, the Brownlow medallist cracked his right patella and damaged his cartilage, and whilst his numbers improved slightly the following year, it was clear as day that something was amiss, after he only polled three Brownlow votes in the 2009 season after having polled 24 votes the year before. What became his signature dash out of the stoppages and his silky skills by foot had slowly deteriorated, just like his knee. It got to the point where he began to miss a huge bulk of games and was considering retirement at an early age, playing only 13 games in 2011 and 14 games in 2012 and was a shadow of his former self.
But just when he thought his career was dead, he found something in Germany that could prove to be the problem-solver for his troublesome knee. Dr. Peter Wehling had developed a treatment called Regenokine which has also been used by the likes of former NBA stars Kobe Bryant and Tracy McGrady. It's a special blood-spinning treatment that helps reduce the inflammation to any specific joint in the human body.
It was a gamble that not only Cooney, but the Bulldogs, were willing to take, he was sent to Dusseldorf, Germany at the end of the 2012 AFL season and come the start of the 2013 season, it was almost like watching the Adam Cooney of old from the stands. There were snippets of his old trademark run and carry with the ball from the stoppages and his skills with the ball were vintage Cooney. He ended up averaging 25 disposals a game for the first time since the 2010 season, which included eight games in which he recorded 30 disposals or more. He played 19 of a possible 22 games and was one of the many reasons why the Dogs had such a blazing finish to the season, that saw them win four of the last six games.
But by the end of the 2014 season, the Bulldogs were looking to trade away the number one draft pick. Despite Cooney's loyalty towards the Bulldogs, it looked as if the Dogs were looking to the future with kids like Jack Macrae, Tom Liberatore and Marcus Bontempelli seemingly ready to take the next step, and eventually a deal was struck with Essendon, sending Cooney to the Bombers in exchange for pick 37, which was eventually on-traded to the Swans for Shane Biggs and pick 39.
Now a Bomber, he was originally enlisted by the red and black army to help them contend for a premiership after they bowed out of the first week of the finals in 2014. Unfortunately for both Cooney and the Bombers, they both struggled. Cooney had ankle and hamstring problems which hampered his game significantly, whilst the Bombers struggled to cope with the implications of the supplements saga, and finished a lowly 15th, which saw the club sack coach James Hird after the humiliating round 20 defeat by the Adelaide Crows.
Season 2016 saw a much better season for the former Bulldog, in which he averaged just under 23 disposals a game, despite drawing the ire of a certain former Bomber (*cough* Dean Rioli *cough*). However it was the news that broke on August 16th, that season 2016 would indeed be Cooney's last season, and how fitting to do it in the lead-up to a meeting with the old club and as an added bonus, this will be game number 250. You wouldn't have thought that he'd get so far with all the history he's had with dicky knees and dodgy hamstrings.
Although he's yet to decide whether or not this will be his last game or whether he will play until the end of the season, I think it's safe to say that almost every Western Bulldog fan has appreciated the work that Adam Cooney has done for the red, white and blue over the years, and even though it still saddens me that he's running out in red and black these days, he'll always still be a Bulldog through and through.
All The Best In The Future Coons!!