HOW you judge the 'best of the best' when so many fine athletes have played rugby league in Group 2 since the turn of the 21st century?
With great difficulty, is the answer to that question ... but in one or two cases, so dominant did a single player become, it was a case of looking for those who may have measured up to the standard set by the prime candidate and then making tough judgements.
In the period 2000-2009, Flick Pass has personally witnessed something in the order of 1500 games of 'live and local' footy at all levels, while discussing in depth three times as many others with a circle of trusted confidantes.
But to single out a set list comes down to one's own judgement ... and these are the chosen handful.
Their consistency, ability, personal demeanour and that unseen quality you must feel (rather than see) that sets them apart from the rest of the herd, was the only criteria for making the choices.
Interestingly, both Brad Hart and Matt Donovan survive from the 'Team of the '90s.'
Fullback - Damien Irvine
Who wasn't awestruck by the thrilling kick-returns and those long legs pumping as Damo scattered defenders in his wake?
A devastating attacker in broken play but just as dangerous sneaking in behind the ball distributor and looking for an opportunity to scoot through a gap.
Has matured into a fantastic role model for young players and well-liked and admired across all club boundaries.
Winger - Nathan Davies
Had he not been so versatile and called to play centre so often, 'Shorty' may have set any number of try-scoring records.
Runs a distinctive wide arc and has a deceptive change of pace which often leaves defenders grasping at thin air.
Staunch clubman and a favourite among his peers.
Centre - David Pickvance
One of the few who can change the direction or final outcome of a game through pure skills.
Difficult to 'read' when coming at you and while we are all in awe of his attacking skills, it's his defence which has often inspired team-mates out of a slump.
A true 'free spirit' known for loyalty and integrity.
Centre - Geoff Batten
The ultimate multi-skilled, versatile professional who seems to get smarter with age.
Hugely under-rated and had he not spent so many years with the 'battlers', would be considered one of our best and most innovative coaches. A very nice, down-to-earth bloke.
Winger - Hayden Fisher
A lethal attacking force with enormous speed who created as many tries for others, as the ones where he became the last link on the end of a backline raid.
An uncanny ability to read what inside men Davis and Donovan proposed to do next, always put him into the best position.
Not as outgoing as his coaching brother but a refined character who's tipped to make a fine coach some day.
Five-Eighth - Gary Jarrett
Injury interfered with his brilliant career but has one of the best 'footy brains' of any player to lace up a boot in these parts.
His enormous gifts, both as player and advisor, contributed far more to Macksville's success than he's been given credit for.
Can be prickly and abrasive, but sometimes the nicer side of 'Gonzo' emerges and reveals a warm character is lurking within that complex exterior.
Halfback - Neville Donovan
Masterful and a naturally-gifted genius when allowed to call the shots and while he tends to get agitated when put under pressure, many have tried and few have succeeded in taming him.
Has a wonderful little-boy quality about him and I often see the look of sheer delight on his face after he's done something fantastic, as if he can't believe himself what he's just done.
Lock - Michael Fitzgibbon
In radio broadcasts we referred to him as the 'black knight' due to the distinctive head gear that almost covered his face and hid his identity.
Quiet, reserved, shy, relentless, lethal, dependable ... all adjectives to adequately describe the ultimate clean-up man.
The yardstick by which all great lock forwards must be judged for the next 20 years or more.
Second Row - Reg Donovan Jr
Badly served by injury but in an interrupted career showed what a skilful, courageous competitor he was. Big occasion player and the rep selectors loved him as he would never let them down.
Hugely respected by rivals who considered him a 'player's player' and always hard to beat.
Lovely bloke and his knowledge will ensure the Eagles never lack top people to pass on skills to the kids.
Second Row - Anthony Fenton
Last of the old-style warriors with a relentless, aggressive, retaliate-first playing style which always had rivals on the lookout for trouble.
Better ball player than people gave him credit for and as was the fashion with players from his era, one of the nicest blokes you'd ever wish to meet away from the field ... and a real devil on it.
One of my personal favourites among the players.
Prop - Craig Wallace
Easily the best front row forward I've seen in country footy during (at least) the last 30 years and I'd love to have seen him in his prime.
Scary, ruthless, courageous and the ultimate competitor who refused to admit defeat.
More respected than liked, his total focus on getting the job done didn't always endear him to others, but even with him gone, Sawtell might not now be premiers without the groundwork.
A significant figure in local league history.
Prop - Lee Harvey
Often went through physical torture to play a game he loved and a unique talent in the toughest position on the field.
Like the case with Damo Irvine, to see him in full flight on a kick return was always one of the magical sights on a footy field.
Fearsome and fearless on the paddock, one of the most popular characters on the sidelines and will probably be one of our most revered elder statesmen when he finally retires and there are no more comebacks left in that massive frame.
Hooker - Brad Hart
Was named 'player of the '90s' and for the first few years of this century, remained unchallenged for that honour.
While it can be argued other players are more skilful, Bradley's unique quality comes from within and if you could bottle it, you'd make a million.
He once described himself as a 'sportsman' and that probably explains why his reputation crosses all other codes.
Simply, a superb player and a sensational bloke to go with it.
He is a champion among champions.
Reserve - Paul Davis
One of the greatest ever ... and many insist, the greatest natural talent of all time.
The record will speak for itself and he's also very funny and just the loveliest man.
Reserve - Matt Donovan
Baryshnikov and Nureyev rolled into one and undoubtedly, one of the 'top five' from the centenary of the game.
A proud man fully aware of his gifts, 'Mr Magic' made my name as a league broadcaster, so why wouldn't I be constantly impressed?
Reserve - Kris Watson
His middle name was 'courage' and one of the handful able to turn a game by force of personality.
Another true gentleman of league.
Reserve - Ryan Hartin
The shock selection but it's now a 17-man game and he turned being a bench player into an art form.
When the Rhino hits the ground running, the opposition are about to be skittled.
The party boy of the side and a real character.
Player of the Decade - David Pickvance
Our most capped representative player with gifts we mere mortals can only dream about.
Picko has lots of sensational games, one or two that are passable and none you could describe as ordinary.
A very clean player who's never been known to start any rough stuff, his consistency alone puts him in the elite bracket and while he is obviously his own man, there are no airs and graces and nothing big-headed about him at all.
Will remain one of the greats for as long as he's interested in playing.
Coach of the Decade - Maurie Lonergan
Fantastic judge of talent and one of the powers behind the Macksville throne.
His genius is more as a 'man manager' than as a coach in the purest sense of the word.
He gathered a group of talented individuals together and gave them direction and purpose.
And his greatest move to date was to know when the time was right to stand aside for Chris McDonald and Paul Davis who would take the Sea Eagles on to greatness.
Maurie is the bloke who created 'the Mighties' and for that, an entire decade of true rugby league-lovers are in his debt.GROUP 2 TEAM OF THE DECADE (2000-2009) 1 - Damien Irvine (Sawtell) 2 - Nathan Davies (Sawtell) 3 - David Pickvance (Macksville) 4 - Geoff Batten (Nambucca Heads, Bellinger Valley-Dorrigo, Coffs Harbour) 5 - Hayden Fisher (Orara Valley) 6 - Garry Jarrett (Nambucca Heads, Macksville) 7 - Neville Donovan (Macksville) 8 - Craig Wallace (Sawtell) 9 - Brad Hart (Orara Valley, Bellinger Valley-Dorrigo) 10 - Lee Harvey (Woolgoolga, Coffs Harbour) 11 - Anthony Fenton (Port Macquarie) 12 - Reg Donovan Jr (Macksville) 13 - Michael Fitzgibbon (Port Macquarie) Reserves 14 - Paul Davis (Port Macquarie, Macksville, Dunghutti) 15 - Matt Donovan (Orara Valley, Coffs Harbour) 16 - Kris Watson (Sawtell) 20 - Ryan Hartin (Woolgoolga) Coach: Maurie Lonergan (Macksville) Player of the Decade: David Pickvance (Macksville) Team of the Decade: Macksville Sea Eagles
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