Jamie Macmillan played 167 games for the Kangaroos after being recruited alongside Ben Cunnington in the 2009 AFL Draft. Here he reflects on the career of one of North Melbourne's greatest players, and a friendship that endures beyond the footy ground.

I first met Cunners the morning after the AFL Draft back in 2009. What will come as no surprise to anyone – he hardly said a word.

The first time I heard him speak was when he called for a footy off me and just said ‘Yeah here, cobber’, a name that to this day we still use to affectionately refer to each other.

Despite all that, you could tell by the look in his eye he was going to become a very good player. And that he was.


My first on-field memory of Cunners is ‘the handball’. Round 20, 2010 against St Kilda. You can picture it. He wins the clearance, breaks from the stoppage, feigns a handball and then delivers a 25m ball into the corridor to Daniel Wells who doesn’t need to break stride.

I was in the stands that day and you could see every North Melbourne person sit up a little straighter and take note. It was the first of many special things that Cunners did on the football field.

It wasn’t all smooth sailing for him. By his own admission he wasn’t playing well in 2012, his third year in the system. I remember coach Brad Scott telling him he needed to relax, play on instinct more, but he was to do it first back at VFL level.

He went back and dominated for two weeks. In one of those games he had 34 possessions and kicked four goals. His return was only delayed because he managed to get himself suspended in one game.

Prior to getting dropped, he had 20 disposals or more just six times in his previous 46 games. In his next eight games, after coming back into the side, he had 20 or more seven times. He was a new man and he will still tell you that was one of the best things to happen to him.

Others will have their own favourite memories of Cunners but what I will remember most will be his comeback in Adelaide after his cancer treatment. Here was a man who had been through everything.

- Jamie Macmillan on Ben Cunnington

Cunners’ career is filled with highlights and accolades but one that stands out for me came in Round 8 against Richmond in 2018. It was the day he broke the record for the most contested possessions in a single game.

What many won’t know is he shouldn’t have played that day and wasn’t going to. At main training a few days before, he tore his calf. The doctor sent him off for a scan and sure enough, there was a tear. When asked if he could play, Cunners' comment was: ‘Well, I don’t run fast enough for it to get any worse!’.

Sure enough he rolled out, calf strapped up, and almost single-handedly got us over the line with 32 contested possessions, eight uncontested and 14 clearances.

From the middle of 2012 onwards, after that stint in the VFL, Cunners was a star. He will finish his career with two Syd Barker Medals to his name along with four second placings.

Others will have their own favourite memories of Cunners but what I will remember most will be his comeback in Adelaide after his cancer treatment. Here was a man who had been through everything.

I shared a moment with him in the rooms prior to that game, gave him a hug and told him I was so proud of him. He just looked me in the eye, thanked me and hugged me back. It was a moment I will never forget.

Later on, standing at the top of the race with his wife, Belinda, his kids Xav, Stella and Kobe, was the most emotive moment I have been part of in footy. What this guy managed to do cannot be understated. He is a champion.


I’m glad to say that my memories of him don’t just extend to his on-field exploits. As many will know, Cunners is a keen fisherman and there have been many players who have shared the water with him over the years. A fond memory for me was when he first asked ex-teammate Shaun Atley and me out in his boat.

We were due to meet at Mornington boat ramp at 5am. His one rule is simple – I’ll supply the boat, the rods, the bait and the drinks. You supply the food.

So, naturally with Ats and I not being morning people, we forgot the food! It didn’t get off to a good start but a day on the water with Cunners is like nothing else – it’s just a man in his element. And you cannot shut him up on the boat!

Teammates, mates and 2009 draftees Ben Cunnington (l) and Jamie Macmillan

Now, as Cunners looks to step onto that field one more time, it will be the little things we miss. The comfort he gives all fans when the ball is in his hands, the pride we feel when he shrugs off three hopeful but ultimately unsuccessful tacklers, or the inch we all grow when he fends off yet another opposition player. We will miss all of that, but we still have the memories.

Cunners, you are one of a kind. A tremendous footballer no doubt, but a terrific husband, dad and friend.

It has been a pleasure to share the corridors and ground with you but it is time to get back to the farm with Belinda and the kids and enjoy the quiet life.

Love you, mate.


Be there in Round 14 as we mark 25 years since our iconic 1999 premiership!