By GREG WHITE
WHILE Sawtell club stalwart John McKay has no hesitation in declaring his origins, he's a Panther through and through.
"The life membership is a great honour," he said.
"It's difficult to explain how proud it makes me feel for everything I have from football is tied up with the Sawtell culture."
McKay was 30 when he became part of history.
Sawtell won the 1978 grand final under Les and Noel Cleal with the team being awarded the Clayton Cup as best country team.
"Strangely, the Cup isn't something I consider my greatest thrill," McKay said.
"The friendships from those years I treasure more."
To illustrate, McKay nominated his premiership front row partner Bob Barker as his favourite player of the era.
"Bob worked in my business and we became great friends away from the field.
"Soon after we went our separate ways and while we haven't met up since that time, we still stay in contact."
Col Adams, Matt Rigoni, Russ Lincoln and Ivan Richards were other life long friends made at the time.
"We all came across from Coffs together," he remembered.
"There's a bond between old footballers that only we can understand."
Beating the Comets, naturally, gives McKay special pleasure.
"When they beat us, I get depressed," he laughed.
"But the great rivalry is fantastic for the game."
Since retiring as a player McKay has held a variety of administrative positions with the club but will scale back a few of his positions.
"I hope to remain working with Group 2 and the Division," he said.
"Also, to stay on the club committee to assist Mark Maynard and his new board.
"You make so many friends in this game and it would be hard to turn away from that."