Parker plays 200th game for Lions
The challenge of modern day football clubs may be greater than ever as the influence of money and paid players often comes before loyalty to a club.
Honour boards around Victoria remain empty as even 100 senior games for one club has become a rare occurrence.
For Mulwala Football Netball Club this coming week marks a significant achievement, as a third player within 12 months plays their 200th senior game.
For Nathan Parker this was an achievement that had almost eluded him as he finished the 2015 season on 196 games after returning for one last shot at a premiership.
The failed finals campaign that year appeared to be his last as he called time on his decorated career.
Even as round 1 came and went in 2017, Parker was still unsure if he could make a comeback.
The defining moment came on a blustery April night when he shuffled out the door in a 15 year old Bulldogs jersey and joined the main group.
It took all of 15 minutes before he assumed the role he has played for the better part of 12 years, leading from the front and using his voice to demand the best of those around him.
He was back, just like a John Farnham farewell tour, not quite ready to sit idle in retirement.
As a junior Nathan showed enormous potential and after playing Fourths for Mulwala, he crossed the river for a year with Yarrawonga before joining the Murray Bushrangers for three years of footy in the elite Under 18 competition.
The full package, he dominated in the air and showed promise as both a key forward and backman. With an unbelievable set of hands, his marking prowess saw him make it all the way to the AFL reserves with games for Carlton back in 1998, staggering, considering that some of his current team mates were yet to be born.
After a trip to Perth for a year, Parker returned to country Victoria and spent a season with Shepparton United, famously kicking 12 goals straight as a full forward.
That may well have been his last time in the forward half as he started at Full Back the following week, and as been there ever since.
After a year with Yarrawonga in 2003, Parker returned to where it all began and has called Lonsdale Reserve home basically ever since.
At the end of 2007, as one era ended at Mulwala after four losing preliminary finals, a new one began under Parker as coach.
Current President and long term committee member David Rose said the choice for a new coach was simple.
“We knew that we were looking at a complete rebuild with half our team moving on, the only man for the job was Parks,” Rose said.
“In my time at Mulwala there has been no player or coach that has been so admired, liked and respected by his team mates.”
It’s a common sentiment with players coached by Parker who, eight years on, still speak glowingly about his time in charge.
Four time best and fairest winner Sean Robinson described the year he spent playing under Parker as his most enjoyable.
“It was easily my favourite year of football, the team improved every week and off the field we stuck tight as a group,” Robinson said.
Parker’s unique ability to build a player’s confidence yet demand nothing but their very best was the definition of a great coach.
His character and devotion to Mulwala Football was seen on a weekly basis when he would show up at Fourths training to help out or run water for the Thirds, he knew every junior by name and was responsible for many of them becoming senior players in the years that have followed.
At the end of two years as Senior coach, his choice to hand the job over yet remain as player and captain reflected his selfless attitude.
As a result Mulwala soared to the top of the ladder under Tim Hargreaves as a couple of recruits joined the promising group of younger players that had been developed in the previous years.
As a captain he retained the respect and admiration of every player, a voice of support with a quiet word or a dose of honesty when someone stepped out of line.
Standing at 6 feet 5 inches his size and strength was, and still is, a formidable force; not content with spoiling to the boundary line, he has always preferred to take the grab, a skill that has seen him dominate the backline, with a 15 mark game considered just an average day out.
With the foot skills of a midfielder, his favourite move is too gesture that he is about to go long down the line before a pin point pass cuts the opposition apart through the middle.
What truly makes him great however, is not his skills on the field but his presence as a leader of young men.
Desire, courage and fierce determination to win has meant that Mulwala players have always walked taller with him on the field.
Through the agony of two grand final loses and countless promising finals campaigns that have ended too early, Nathan Parker has stood tall in every sense of the word.
As a coach, captain and player, he has created a legend, a revered figure whose legacy will live on at the Mulwala Football Club for years to come.
Lion Nathan Parker lines up for his 200th senior game with Mulwala this weekend.