THE last time Cam McInnes shared a moment with Paul McGregor in the Bankwest Stadium away shed he was apologising for a team effort that looked to have got his coach sacked.
It made it extra special to hand over his game jersey to McGregor on Friday night after sending him out a winner following the coach's decision to part ways with the club after seven seasons.
The scenes following the 14-12 win largely put paid to suggestions of a playing group that was off McGregor. Cynics might suggest it was just paper over cracks, but there was never any doubt over the tightness of the bond shared between coach and captain.
"I wanted to say something after the game. I had a think about it yesterday and what I could give him," McInnes said.
"He's not much of a gifts man, but I wanted to show how much he means to me as a person. He gave me my first jersey at the club, and the last time I played under him I wanted him to have my last jersey with him as my coach.
"I'm glad it meant something to him because it meant a lot to me. It was a really emotional day for him. He loves the club - he's a club legend. He doesn't get the opportunity to coach any more and it's hard for him and us as players.
"As soon as the whistle went I wanted to get over to Mary and give him a hug. It was an emotional and special moment. I'm grateful we could send him off the right way.
"The thing I will say about Mary through this whole period - and it feels like it's been the whole time I've been at this club - is he's copped criticism. He's always kept his head up and worked hard and it's never fazed him. He's a really strong man and we were lucky to have him."
Lucky is how McInnes has felt since joining the club, despite the frustrating lack of on-field success that ultimately brought about McGregor's departure.
Having struggled behind the likes of Isaac Luke at the Rabbitohs in the early years of his career, McInnes has moved himself into the NSW Origin selection mix and become captain of the club since making the shift south.
He said McGregor's role in that can't be understated.
"I've always had a strong work ethic and a strong desire to be the best I can be but, for whatever reason, at Souths I was holding myself back," McInnes said.
"Whatever it was, mentally or whatever, the thing about Mary is he always had faith and belief in me. Even at a time when others probably didn't as much, he still wanted to bring me to the club after '16 when they hadn't had a great year.
"I'm sure Dragons fans were probably asking 'why are you moving Mitch Rein on and bringing this kid in that's not even playing at Souths?' But Mary always stuck by me and I'll always be grateful for that because there probably weren't too many other opportunities for me, definitely not to be a starting player.
"There's no chance that would've happened, so I owe him pretty much everything and the way my life has turned out since I came to the Dragons. My partner and I are engaged, we've bought a house, we have a baby, we have `a little girl due on Monday.
"I'm a big believer that everything happens for a reason and since him bringing me to the club I feel very blessed. So I'll always be grateful to him."
Assistant coach Dean Young has had a similar impact on McInnes, who says the interim boss should be given every chance to press his claims for a long-term gig.
"Aside from the way he played as a footballer, he brings that work ethic and that toughness as a coach as well," McInnes said.
"As a player he would be the first to admit that his game wasn't built on talent, it was built on hard work and he drives that message into us players every day.
"It's a very good message because even [Friday night], there was nothing special about that game. It was just about hard work, it was just about getting the win. That's the biggest thing, his toughness.
"He obviously got that from his old man [Craig Young]. He brings that. It's sad to see Mary go but footy doesn't stop for anyone. The club has to keep going on, we have to keep working and Dean has the chance to make it a success."
Much of the talk around McGregor's departure centred on the controversial selection panel imposed following a 22-2 loss to the Bulldogs on their previous trip to Bankwest.
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McInnes has been front and centre of the regular shifting of positions in the spine, dropping back to lock to accomodate Ben Hunt at hooker at different stages.
It's unclear how the selection of the team will work with Young at the helm, fellow panel member Shane Flanagan is tipped to retain a fair say, but McInnes says he won't be drawing any lines in the sand over his role.
"I don't have a preferred position now, hooker or lock, I am prepared to play both," McInnes said.
"I'm not trying to do cliches or anything like that, I just enjoy lock as much as I do hooker. I don't know if that's a good or bad thing for the team but that's what I'll do and do it to the best I can.
"Ben Hunt is a great hooker and, if it works he plays hooker and I play lock for the Dragons, that's what I'll do."