Rival skippers united by Kokoda bond - Sports News - Fanatics - the world's biggest events

Rival skippers united by Kokoda bond

By Sam Lienert 28/05/2010 01:58:25 PM Comments (0)

Hawthorn skipper Sam Mitchell and Sydney co-captain Brett Kirk both say visits to Kokoda early in their AFL careers have had a lasting emotional effect.

The two teams clash at the MCG on Sunday in a match dedicated to honouring Australians and Papua New Guineans who fought at Kokoda during World War II.

It will also be a fundraiser to provide education and healthcare for children who live along the Kokoda Track.

Kirk, who visited PNG in 2000, said it held special personal significance because his grandfather, now 88, fought there and was hoping to attend Sunday's match.

"I actually last night read the diary I wrote during the five days I was over there and had some really vivid memories," Kirk, who recently announced this would be his final AFL season, said on Thursday.

"The one thing that really sticks out is the spirit of Kokoda ... I'm talking about the courage, the sacrifice, but also about how the human spirit overcomes adversity.

"It's no doubt early in my career this was really poignant and I think being able to come back and spend a Christmas with my grandfather.

"I was probably pretty naive before I went over there about what it was all about."

Kirk said the Hawks - who will wear a military-styled jumper for the game and make annual visits to Kokoda - deserved credit for attempting to raise the profile of that aspect of Australia's war-time history.

"I just think it's something we need to keep honouring," he said.

Mitchell said his team trip to Kokoda in 2005 was emotionally "by far the hardest thing I'd done to that point in my life".

He said the most haunting moment was visiting a hill which was covered in stakes marking the graves of young soldiers who had died there.

"We all sat there and there's just all these unmarked graves and you just imagine what it would be like having soldiers coming up these hills to you, and these are the graves of your countrymen that have been lost right here," Mitchell said.

"They were all 18-and-a-half, I think I was 22 at that time, so it wasn't that hard to look back on.

"Sitting there, I don't think out of the 30 or so guys that were there, there were too many dry eyes.

"That was something that I wasn't prepared for, which made it all the more difficult to go through."

Mitchell said the club had gained much from visiting the area and were happy the fundraising aspect of Sunday's match meant they could give something back.

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