GROUP SEVEN LEAGUE
Gerringong Lions players have dedicated tomorrow's grand final against Albion Park-Oak Flats to the late Kath Cronin.
The mother of Lions coach Mick Cronin passed away on Wednesday after a brief illness, two days short of her 93rd birthday.
Yesterday Mick paid tribute to a much-loved woman who was probably Gerringong's all-time greatest fan.
"Mum was at the last game of the season at Jamberoo and then got crook two days later," the former NSW and Australian centre said.
"She was struggling a bit for the last six months, but she probably got to most of the games this year. Maybe not Milton and Batemans Bay, but most of the others."
Kath loved her weekend outings at the footy. Her son reckons she never became a student of the game, but it would be hard to find a person who has seen more tries and tackles than Kathleen Mary Cronin.
"She was a bit of a football supporter and followed it for 90 years, but she knew not one thing about the game actually," Mick said with a quiet chuckle.
"I suppose she must've picked up something after 90 years, but I think she just liked following and supporting.
"I don't know whether it started with uncles or cousins. My brother started coaching the under 16s this year, so she started going to watch them play as well."
Parramatta Eels legend Mick said he was holding up relatively well.
"I'm all right," he said.
"You do it a bit tough but ... look if she was 60 or 70 and died, but 93 ...
"Mum was pretty tough. Four years ago she broke her hip and they did a replacement, and after the operation they said there was a good chance she won't make it through the night.
"Two weeks later she was jumping out of her skin."
The Lions will wear black armbands in the grand final as a mark of respect for Kath, while a huge crowd of mourners is expected at her funeral at St Mary's Star of the Sea Church on Tuesday.
One of Kath's 11 grandchildren, Mick's son Patrick, will line up for the Lions at five-eighth tomorrow.
Gerringong won all 16 games during the regular season before losing to Albion Park-Oak Flats in the major semi-final.
The Lions responded with a comfortable victory over Warilla in last week's final and are glad to get another crack at the Eagles.
"At the start of the year people thought no-one would get near Albion Park," Cronin said.
"Our games with them have been close.
"We won the first one, the second one they had a bloke sent off, and the last one they beat us by two. To say the sides are close is a pretty fair call."
Lions captain Ryan Staples remains in doubt with a back injury but will be given every chance to prove his fitness.
"Stapo ran last night but knows he has to actually run into something before Sunday," Cronin said.
"He deserves to be there for all the years of good service. He said it was getting better. He's been getting plenty of work on it for a fortnight.
"We'll have a light run (this morning) but he might have a bit of a tougher one.
"In the end he has to look at what's best for himself and what's best for the team."
Prop Justin O'Hare will be handed the captaincy if Staples is ruled out.
Premiers in 2010, the Lions are playing in their third straight grand final. The club will also be represented in the reserve grade premiership decider against Kiama.
"Three straight grand finals and two straight in reserve grade, so we've had a fair run," Cronin said.
"You'd like to think there'll be a big crowd. It's on Albion Park's ground, and our supporters travel."