You could rattle off a great deal of dire things about how it all played out for Nick Davis – how he fired off a cheap shot publicly to his coach Paul Roos by insinuating the only reason he was dropped was to teach him a lesson for the team losing the week before. It still rubs me the wrong way, that these are the things we vividly recollect when thinking about a free-spirited guy like Nick Davis.
The unceasing hints that Nick Davis never amounted to all that much, that he underachieved, was lazy, was hard to read and lived and died by his own rules. There’s a lot to consider about Nick Davis’ narrative and an AFL career and perhaps there’s a familiarity to it all that could fit every AFL player. But Nick Davis, chronic goal-sneak, creative genius but full of wanderlust or victim of being misunderstood as ambiguous, was nothing like that.
We consume football through anecdotal feeds and drips. We read the sports pages in the hope there is a narrative, something we can hold onto and something to conceptualize. Sports writers, too, need storylines. They are paid to conceive narratives. They coin terms like “brain fades” and phrases like “gone missing” when players simply don’t deliver to their expectations.
You could make a case that the 2011 few-cattle-short-Magpies, were deficient of an indispensable mob that could have won that Grand Final. Of all the critical assessments for their loss, the “gone missing” jabs could have been flattened out by reading the newspaper about who fired and who faltered: goal-shark Alan Didak was held scoreless with seven kicks in 2011. But all that does, however which way you want to spin it, is regress the Nick Davis dialogue to a destination where it never should have resided – a shallow look, a loose examination, a hollow place.
That seems rather apocalyptic and daubs an incredibly grim side of post-retirement Nick Davis haze. But there is another side. Of course there is. There always is. A less entangled side where there’s less scrutiny on words from press conferences and quips about whether or not Nick Davis will show up to training.
Consider this: let’s cast our minds back to the boisterous Nick Davis times, the syrupy romping times. The high-octane, wide-eyed, losing our voice, “he made that look effortless” jaunty times. There’s the Rising Star nomination in ’99, his first year in the AFL. Premiership player in ’05 with the Swans. He kicked 38 goals in ’05 and 33 in 2007. His 30 touches, 14 marks and four goals against the Roos in ’00. The four last-quarter goals to sink Geelong in the ‘05 Semi Final.
There’s other things you may have picked up, or only you remember, like some freakish dribble, snap goal from the boundary line or some elaborate selling of candy that reminded us of Nick Davis’ mesmerizing dancing feet or perhaps how velvety-smooth his kicking action was when he lined up for goal off the mark – there are gobs of these mislaid moments.
This is how we should remember Nick Davis. He filled that small-forward void – someone who can take a contested mark and be a creator of goals as well as kick them. His boot was set to deadeye dick, with both feet, and Davis hatched out a career as an elusive forward, hard to match up on and played during a period where his kind was considered one of those under the radar premiership weapons. If you happen to be at park one day, kicking the football or even playing in a local league and you abruptly have the feeling you can’t miss a set shot or any shot at goal for that matter, consider, Nick Davis acted these deeds out for most of his 168 games, stretching it out over the best part of a decade.
Nick Davis was of a saucy variety. He used to stick out his tongue when he was on top of his game and call attention to his feats. He had this uncanny ability to shirk defenders and adapt to small, unthinkable spaces and became this slippery eel-like creature that could not be caught. These vignettes often ended with a Davis goal at critical junctures, which prompted a salute or a one-armed pump to salivating fans. The silky evasive movement of Nick Davis was never perfect, far from it, but they were carried out through effortless precision and were one-of-a-kind.
You probably still recognize how Davis played more VFL games than he’d like to think about. And you most likely recall how his time at Collingwood was short-lived without much meaning. What about those media outbursts and those times he needed space and didn’t show up to training all because he admitted, like a human with feelings, that he might be losing interest in the sport. It’s easy for me, or you, or sports writers to sew these atoms to ultimately conclude that this was Nick Davis’ career in a nutshell, that these narratives dimmed the good ones. It shouldn’t.
It doesn’t hold true anymore. It shouldn’t hold true. Nick Davis, in all of his big show antics and glorious drop punts, never did add up. Because at times, he mocked his own mettle, the very thing that won games of football. And if you recall, most of his successes happened at times when it really mattered. That’s how we should remember Nick Davis.
You can follow Justin Robertson on Twitter @justinjourno