Parker plays 200th game for Lions

Yarrawonga Chronicle - - Classies Classies - BY CHRIS O’NEILL

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.

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