More from the Colac Herald on Dean Mahoney’s 300th senior game

Dean Mahoney says there was only one time he seriously considered retirement during his 299 games of senior football with Otway Districts.

The Gellibrand club had been the Mahoney family’s second home for more than two decades.

His mum Sheryl was one of the first people to greet you when you arrived at the club, while the three Mahoney boys Dean, Leigh and Aaron, known as Bill, were key cogs in the senior footy side.

Dean was one of the first picked for the Demons’ senior side each week, a reliable defender, or forward, wherever he was needed.

He had just turned 30 years old and his body was feeling good.

But he said the tragedy that struck on May 2, 2015, almost forced him to give football away.

Dean was there the day that his younger brother Aaron, six years his junior, lost his life in a tragic on-field incident.

Aaron’s death rocked the club and the Colac district football community.

It hit Dean so hard he wasn’t sure if he would ever play again.

Dean, now 38, spoke to the Colac Herald about his longevity in the game, saying he’d once told his wife Kylie he only planned to play until he was 35.

But after contacting the Herald afterwards, he said there was one other time he considered giving the game away.

“After losing Bill in 2015 in front of us all, this was probably the only real time where I half considered it,” Dean said.

“Obviously thoughts run through your mind after a tragedy like that.

“Should I continue playing? Is it worth it? If it can so easily happen to him, it could easily happen to me.

“It would have been the easy thing to do and likely understood by all.”

Ultimately Dean chose to continue playing.

Another eight years and counting.

And why?

“I know it’s what Bill would have wanted and would have done himself,” Dean said.

“It was a huge moment in the history of the club and deeply affected everyone,” he said.

“The support that the club and all involved showed me and our family made continuing to play through this tough time more than the right decision.”

Dean’s football journey began as an 11-year-old in the under-17 ranks at his family club Princetown in the Heytesbury-Mount Noorat league.

After the Magpies folded due to a “drop in numbers” in 1998, he had a choice to make on a new club; Simpson was closer to his home at Chapple Vale, but ultimately he chose to join a host of his school mates like Marcus Roache, Rory Harrington, Lucas Palmer and Pete Johnstone at Otway Districts.

A couple of years later the young Otway side played in an under-17 premiership together in 2000 under Matt Zurbo.

And just two years after that, a young Mahoney made his senior debut in a strong Otway side, coached by Gary Morrissy.

“I was 17 when I started, we actually played in the grand final that year but we got beaten pretty comprehensively by Heytesbury,” Mahoney recalled.

“I don’t remember a lot about that grand final, but I remember there being a large fight that spilled over into the crowd,” he said.

“Obviously I was pretty young then but that didn’t deter me from coming back, the game was a lot tougher to play back then.”

While his memories of the game itself were limited, Dean said he still recalled what the grand final berth meant for the community.

“It was massive for us to reach a grand final, it was something that the club hadn’t done for a long time,” he said.

“I remember the build-up, going to school and there were flags and blue and white streamers tied up everywhere because we were the Kangaroos back then.

“It was massive for a small community.”

The following year, Otway Districts and Simpson would move into the Colac district league after the Heytesbury league folded.

Dean, Stewart Sutherland and Matt Zurbo are the only players still playing to have played in the Heytesbury league.

Dean said he had little recollection of the move, apart from a conversation about which team colours they would wear due to the Colac league already having a Kangaroos team.

“We ended up going with the Demons, which were the Gellibrand colours back in the day,” Mahoney said.

A young Dean must have thought football was easy.

After a relatively successful end to their Heytesbury days, the new Demons featured in finals in two of their first three seasons in the Colac district league.

But Otway Districts haven’t played finals since 2005.

A sixth-placed finish under Tim Pekin in 2009 has been their best finish since, while Dean has been a part of four teams that have claimed wooden spoons.

But while other teammates moved on to chase glory elsewhere, Dean’s loyalty never wavered.

“I never considered moving clubs,” he said.

“I always thought if you play somewhere, you’re there for life, unless you’re any good and want to test yourself at a higher level.”

Looking back, with no senior premierships under his belt, Dean said he realised success came in many forms as he got older.

“Initially it was the love of the game that kept me coming back, just being able to run around with mates,” he said.

“Early on we were fairly successful, I played in quite a few finals until about 2006.

“Since then, we’ve been a bit lean on the success side of things, so it becomes more about enjoying your time with people.

“Success for me these days is seeing the club prosper, and seeing the juniors come through to become great footballers, guys like Al McKenzie and Dale Trotter who were ankle-high when I first started.”

The club is prospering off-field, and Dean has played a large part in that.

He’s been on a Demons’ committee for more than two decades, holding numerous roles.

His commitment to the club earned him life membership two years ago.

“Just seeing the club grow from what it was to what it is now, and being a part of that, has been a highlight,” Dean said.

“From a tiny shed with no money to where we are now, prospering off the field and improving each week on the field,” he said.

Tomorrow Dean will notch up his 300th senior game.

Fittingly, he’ll reach the milestone against old Heytesbury league rival Simpson, in the two clubs’ 25th anniversary of the Heytesbury Shield under lights at Cobden.

It was a milestone he never thought he’d reach.

Who expects to play 300 games?

“It is special to play 300 games with the club,” Dean said.

“I actually haven’t thought about it too much, but Otway’s just home,” he said.

“The friendly atmosphere, no one turns their nose up at you, everyone’s really respectful and inviting.

“I’m just thankful I’ve been able to play 300 games and that my body’s held up that long.”

He conceded at 38 it was a lot harder to get himself up for each game.

Luckily his brother Leigh has just built a new pool, perfect for recovery sessions, while he and Kylie’s two sons Xavier, 7, and Hayden, 4, keep him active.

“It’s definitely harder to get up for each game these days,” Dean said.

“At the moment I have to put in a bit of work, jump in the pool or do something with the boys to get the body moving,” he said.

“We’re lucky we’ve actually got a remedial masseuse at Otway as well.”

Even at 38, Dean isn’t quite ready to say this season is his last.

He said even if he’d reached 300 games last year he would have continued on, with the Dees looking to climb the ranks this year under Geelong AFL champion Max Rooke.

“I haven’t made a decision just yet,” Dean, an avid Cats fan, said.

“I’m probably leaning towards this year being my last, but I’ll wait and see how we end up and how we’re looking next year,” he said.

“If I can still run around I’ll slot in and potentially keep going.

“If I’m not playing seniors, no doubt I’ll have a run around in the reserves.”

Regardless of the decision, Dean admitted he was excited about the next stage of his football journey, with his eldest son Xavier preparing to play in the Demons’ under-10 side this year.

The young Mahoneys have been part of Otway’s famous Mini Dees half-time games along with Aaron’s son Toby, and no doubt Leigh’s son Parker won’t be far off.

“Having the Mini Dees running around has been great for the club, I think people enjoy watching the kids more than the senior game,” Dean said.

“I know I won’t play forever, with Xav being 7 now and starting off, soon I’ll be following him,” he said.

“Hopefully footy and the Otway footy club will still be a huge part of my life for the foreseeable future.”