ILLAWARRA COAL LEAGUE
All it took was a five-minute walk to put Matt Clarke on the path to a 200-game career with Illawarra Coal League giants Wests.
Gundagai born and bred, Clarke moved to Wollongong as a fresh-faced 18-year-old, with the hopes of cracking the big time.
When that didn't happen he was ready to turn his back on the sport but was talked into finding a game at the park up the road.
"I was a bit disheartened with footy when I got cut by the Dragons but the family I was staying with said 'you need to keep playing' so they sent me five minutes down the road to Wests," he said.
"It was only a five-minute walk, so that was that. I've been here ever since."
Not long after that quick stroll down the road to Parrish Park, Clarke cracked the top grade.
"The first-grade hooker at the time had his 21st, so he had the week off and I played in his position," Clarke said.
He's yet to surrender the jersey with his mortgage on the Devils No 9 stretching to 199 first-grade games.
On Saturday, Clarke will notch his 200th when he leads the Devils onto Parrish Park for their clash with traditional rivals Dapto.
"For a club with such a proud and rich history it's an honour to play 200 games," Clarke said.
"Only four blokes have ever done it. Buster [Greg Reh] got his this year as well. We've played pretty much all our lives together in grade, so to do it with him in the same year is pretty special."
There have been plenty of highlights in that time but Clarke said the club's hat-trick of premierships from 2009 to 2011 under coach Paul McGregor ranks highest.
"To win the first one in 2009 was pretty special. We got beat in 2005 by Collies on the siren, so to eventually get the first one was really good," he said.
"To get the others in '10 and '11 were even better.
"I think they're tougher. Everyone is out to get you in the second year and even more in the third year. They all really want to knock you off, so to get three in a row was pretty special."
The 31-year-old also boasts four Country Championship titles in a stellar career that he hopes will continue for at least a few more seasons.
"If I'm still playing OK I'll keep going. Hopefully, if I'm not, someone will tap me on the shoulder and say 'time to go'," he said.
"At the moment I'm happy with how I'm going. I still love training every Tuesday and Thursday being around the boys and having a laugh.
"If I didn't have those mates I probably would've called it quits a while ago but those friendships keep you going."