THE best Helensburgh Tiger of them all. It’s a fair rap, but coach Gavin Lennon doesn’t hesitate to bestow the title on club great Steve McCallum, who will bow out after his 200th and final match for the Tigers on Saturday.
It’s fitting the milestone will come at home, and in a local derby with Thirroul, given the man they call ‘Tower’ has left a permanent impression on Rex Jackson Oval.
The Burgh has produced Origin stars, like current NSW No. 9 Damien Cook, but Lennon believes McCallum – year in year out – is best the don the jumper.
“Realistically he has to go down as the greatest Helensburgh Tiger ever,” Lennon said.
“Obviously guys have gone on to higher honours and bigger and better things but, if you look solely at the club, he’s got to be the greatest Tiger we’ve ever had.
“Without Tower we wouldn’t have a club today, we would’ve folded 10 years ago. Particularly in those lean years, he kept it all together and put his body on the line for the cause.
“He was busting his guts playing two and three games a weekend, backing up from 18s into reserve grade and then first grade.
“He’s paying for it a little bit now as he gets older but, what he’s put his body through and the performances he’s put on the field week in week out, he’s certainly the best Tiger I’ve seen.”
McCallum himself humbly disagrees, but there’s no doubting the 2015 premiership-winning skipper will leave a mighty legacy at the club, though he admits he wasn’t always sure there’d be a club to play even 100 games for.
“I started playing first grade in 2004 and in 2006 we didn’t even have a first grade side so I played reserve grade for a season,” McCallum said.
“We came back in but it was touch and go for a few years until it turned around. They signed Stewart Webb to captain-coach and Col Doran came on board and we started climbing the mountain.
“ was the pinnacle and certainly the number one achievement in how special it was for our club and our town. It’s something I’ll cherish forever.
“We’re coming down the other side now but the club’s still here and it’s healthy. The results haven’t been there on the field this year but the club’s in good hands going forward.”
No one would have begrudged him had he decided to sail off into the sunset in the wake of the premiership glory, he’d done enough in the early years to earn a pass on another rebuilding phase, but he always felt the pull back to Rex Jackson Oval as another season rolled around.
“I was content with what I’d achieved in the game but I was just still enjoying it,” he said.
“It’s the only reason we play footy up at Helensburgh. It’s not about money or anything else, it’s about the love of the game and being around your teammates.
“I retired last year but the fire was still there and Gav was in my ear so I said ‘yeah I’ll give it another crack’. Even though the results haven't been there I’ve still enjoyed it.”
Last year’s retirement proved a false start but, while he didn’t come back this year eyeing the milestone, McCallum said it’s nice swansong.
“This is it now. It’s a good way to finish, an even 200,” he said.
“The body’s just not recovering like it used to, I’ve got three kids now and I think the wife and them have followed me around enough for footy.
“It’s certainly a good achievement. Even a few weeks ago I didn’t even know it was on the cards.
“When you start playing you don’t really set out to do it. I’ve just enjoyed playing with the boys every week and trying to give my best for the team and the town. It’s been one hell of a ride.”