Season 40 for the Old Dog!

Dean Mahoney can play. I first coached him as a wide-eyed 14 year old, in 2000, when our juniors won the flag. I was already Old Dog, by then. Deano was a quiet kid, but I ordered them to be loud, to talk, non-stop, demand the ball, organise. So that’s what he did. I made him captain of the juniors eventually, but the seniors kept nicking him! And soon we were teammates on the oval, mates off it.

Now, after 20-odd years of playing and working all around Australia, I’ve returned home. My mate is still there. Solid on the oval, hard with no fuss. That player whose honesty becomes vital to the team. On every club committee, always helping, a ripper dad with a corker wife, a home, some land.

After too many struggling years, the club is looking great! Two highly respected playing coaches, Max Rooke from Geelong assisting – giving us modern structures, team plans. A fellow old gumboot, Mark “Cruddy” Christian, as our fitness coach.

I played a lot of footy with Cruddy a lifetime ago, down in the Bay, all leather and larger-than-life. No concept of pain, just will. Between drills, twice a night, he tries to break us.

Last week we had to do a few laps by SPRINTING 200 metres, jogging back 100, SPRINT 200 more, jog back 100.

Pride can be a beautiful thing, and a horrible thing. I had broken my back all day harvesting tree ferns, heaving them over my shoulder, carting them up backberry-infested gullies. I’m 54, thought I’d earned the right to take a few steps short on the jog back. A metre, two. Not to be lazy, to finish as high up as I could. To not be last. The job keeps me crackers fit. There were five or six behind me, including Dean who was on his first night back. But I wanted six or seven, whatever I could get.

Two times I turned to sprint again, and bumped into Deano, who was jogging all the way back, not taking short steps. Who hasn’t taken one in 22 years. After the third time, he called; “All the way through, boys!” in that commanding voice of his.

Quiet Dean Mahoney.

I was instantly, there-and-then, reminded of an older fella who was playing for one of my previous clubs. Once a gun, still of worth, he shuffled or jogged through every drill, because he’d earned the right, but his body forgot how to run hard. Soon, that was simply his pace. He was done.

Dean was right. I didn’t take another short step. And won’t again this year. If you’re gunna do something, give it everything. Everything! Otherwise, what’s the point?

After training I told Dean about bumping into him. How he had called “All the way through!”

He just looked me in the eye as leaving, and said; “Yeah, you taught me that.”

Last year, the kid I coached was made life member of the one club he has played for. Otway doesn’t give out that medallion lightly. 100% community based, it’s the highest honour we’ve got.

He is a gift to football, a footy club, and community. Of course he’s going around again, he doesn’t now how to quit.

I’m going, too. Season 40 of adult footy. 667 games. It should be more, but with Covid, we missed a year and a half.

Last season, I bench coached the Ones, played 2s and coached the U18s. The senior panel, quite rightly, said I had to drop one. “Time you could serve the club better with us…” one of the coaches said. He’s correct, washed up hacks in the twos are dime a dozen. But, with Rooke on board, the Ones will be right.

I just enjoy playing too much.

By Matt Zurbo