The game always seems to move in unreasonably slow speed for the great players, in cruelly rapid speed for the lost. Mark LeCras has gradually made the transition between these two worlds, his GPS of adequacy slowly but surely losing its coordinates.
It was uncomfortable watching LeCras last Saturday night, a weary silk salesman asked to sell his product in a fiery hell-pit. His two most notable contributions were a pair of kicks off the side of his boot – the first in the opening stages, a sad sprayed dart of a regulation set shot that missed woefully right, the second at the death, a kick ‘forward’ off the ground that was hopeless more than desperate.
LeCras did not belong in the game, and he often looks like he no longer belongs in the league. He is the antithesis of the style of football that a team like Richmond plays. The Tigers play with relentless, decapitating fury – the Frenchman, with all of his 41 tackles across 18 games, just wants to whisper things to you across the pillow.
Rumours of LeCras’s demise this season began with a four-game goalless stretch in the middle of the season. An insipid round 18 performance against Collingwood, where LeCras combined an inability to trouble the scoreboard with an inability to be much more than occupied air in disrupting Magpie players, had the vultures circling.
A solid final three games kept them at bay, seven goals bringing the season tally to an underwhelming but eminently bearable 30 majors in 17 games. The magic was gone, though, and LeCras was merely surviving out there.
He was a wonderful player and has had a brilliant career. In his prime, he was an elite small forward, ultra-skilled, dynamic in his movement and reading of the play. He was unusually strong over his head and had perhaps the purest set shot in the game. His technique was immaculate – the same routine every time, the calm walking back, the singular preparatory raise of the ball to eye level, the implausibly straight, narrow and perfect run-up, a simple ball-drop and then a right leg skying up and to the left as the ball invariably went straight.
There are still flashes of that skill, but LeCras is now on the outskirts. He lingers around packs and contests in space, waiting in hope. He used to hunt the ball, now he hopes it finds him by serendipity and mercy.
His first moment, sprayed kick #1, in last week’s final was illustrative. He was paid a free kick 30 metres from goal with minimal angle. He went back, did the singular ball raise, a bleak nod to a former artist. He commenced his run-up but stopped midway, worried about men encroaching on the mark. One sensed he wanted to go back and start it all again, but time was leaking away. He kept going, dropped the ball, and skied his leg up and to the left. But the ball timidly drifted far right, never given a chance. LeCras meekly pointed towards the men near the mark, men who were gone and may never have been there. He saw that his protests were futile, and disappeared slowly into the night.