"THIS kid will play for Australia one day".
The first time I heard these words I was a young junior cricketer overhearing a conversation about Brad Hodge.
Considering Hodge's outstanding career, I sat up and took notice the next time I heard the sentence uttered again.
This time it was about Macksville 13-year-old Phillip Hughes.
So it was with anticipation that I watched a 16-year-old Hughes pad up with his brother Jason and take to the field for Sawtell.
Despite his tender years, the left-hander was impressive and was considered a vital scalp if the West Coffs Tigers, the team I was captaining, was to beat Sawtell in that season's grand final.
The young man seemingly not much taller than the stumps proved a thorn as he eased his way to a half century as the withering cut shot which would become his trademark proved hard to counter.
Late on the first day of the grand final, I thought I was crazy for placing a slip, two gullys, a short third man and a backward point to counter his run making.
I felt better about my own cricketing sanity a few years later when Test captains like Graeme Smith, Ross Taylor and Andrew Strauss started employing similar fields against him.
That was Hughes'strength - not just his desire to bat for long periods of time but the ability to find the smallest of gaps anywhere between cover-point and the keeper.
It was only three years after that grand final Hughes became the youngest player to make a century in a Sheffield Shield final. For such a young man, his cricketing numbers soon made for Boy's Own Annual reading.
Hughes played 26 Tests, 25 One Day Internationals (ODIs) and a Twenty20 match for Australia.
He became the youngest player in history to make a century in each innings of a Test match, remains the only Australian to score a century on ODI debut and when he made an unbeaten 202 for Australia A against South Africa A he became the first Australian male to score a double century in a 50-overs-a-side match. He also shares the Australian Test record for a 10th wicket partnership with Ashton Agar.
Hughes is one of only four Australians to have scored multiple Test centuries before his 21st birthday. The others being Neil Harvey, Doug Walters and Don Bradman. Exalted company indeed.
But Hughes is more than a list of numbers and achievements.
Over the past couple of days it has become apparent that Greg and Virginia Hughes raised a fine son.
Cricket NSW chief executive Andrew Jones said: "Phillip is fondly remembered as a bright and cheeky young man with an infectious smile".
South Australian Cricket Association chief executive Keith Bradshaw described the 25-year-old as: "Loved by everyone, Phillip was a really terrific person and a remarkable talent."
The true tragedy of a life lost so early has all at the Coffs Coast Advocate extending our deepest sympathies to Phil's family and friends.
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