Eels claim Gerringong's Mick Cronin as their first champion

Eels champion Mick Cronin behind the bar at his Gerringong pub. Picture: GREG TOTMAN

Eels champion Mick Cronin behind the bar at his Gerringong pub. Picture: GREG TOTMAN

Long regarded as Gerringong's greatest, Michael Cronin has been held aloft as the best of Parramatta's 1980s golden generation.

On Wednesday night, Cronin was named inaugural "Champion of Parramatta" ahead of the likes of Peter Sterling, Ray Price and Brett Kenny.

The Group 7 premiership coach last year, Cronin was inducted into the Eels Hall of Fame in 2002.

While acknowledging the award was a "huge honour", Cronin felt uncomfortable to be singled out from so many great players.

"It's a little bit embarrassing, but also humbling," he said when presented with the award.

"You see all the players that have been at this club. I see it as a great honour and I accept it as that."

Group 7 historian John O'Dwyer says Cronin was one of the finest players the game has seen.

"He was an outstanding player", said O'Dwyer.

"Great centre, great goal kicker, and an even greater bloke. He always has been, and always will be, a great role model for rugby league."

Cronin was playing under-12s for Christian Brothers (now Edmond Rice) when his talent was first noticed.

He was so good opposition clubs tried to have him ruled ineligible due to his Gerringong origin.

In 1969 he played his first senior game for Gerringong; in 1970 he won the first of five consecutive Group 7 player of the year awards.

Although he was highly sought after by Sydney clubs, he was reluctant to move to the city.

Even when he was selected for the Kangaroos in 1973, he played on for Gerringong, until he eventually signed with Parramatta in 1975.

Two years later he won his first Rothmans Medal; the following year he became the first player to claim the prestigious award in consecutive years.

Cronin was also an integral part of the side that won the Eels' first grand final in 1981 and which was followed by another three premierships in '82, '83 and '86.

He was awarded an Order of Australia in 1985, and inducted into the Rugby League Hall of Fame in 2007.

After he retired from Parramatta in 1986, he returned to Gerringong and began coaching his old side.

Although he has taken the odd year off, he is still coaching.

Last year, he led Gerringong/Gerroa to their 18th Group 7 title.

Former Eels champion Brett Kenny described Cronin as one of the greatest to have played the game.

"You knew he would be one of the greats of the game", Kenny said.

"He had already played for Australia before he even came to Sydney.

"Then of course [he] joined Parramatta, and was probably one of the best signings they have ever had".

"He was and still is one of my idols."

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