Matt is our Player of the Year
By GREG WHITE
PORT Macquarie's grand final captain Matt Shipway has enjoyed a golden year. A first grade premiership with the Sharks one day before his 21st birthday and the honour of being granted the inaugaral Coffs Coast Advocate Group 2 Player of the Year award. "When I found out I'd been named it left me in shock," the rugged forward admitted. "There are so many fine players in the competition and to be named the best of them makes me very proud. "We've had so many highlights this year but this one is the icing on the cake." Shipway's club bosses were just as stunned by the award. "Living in different areas makes people parochial and we thought somebody up north would win the award," Port assistant secretary Les Murphy said. "The newspaper has got to be on a winner by recognising Group 2 as truly regional and you'll forever have credibility." As far as credibility goes, Shipway has quickly filled the shoes of former team mate Michael Fitzgibbon, one of the greatest lock forwards to ever play local football. "I was off the bench and put back to second row in Fitzy's last season," he said. "It took a while to make the run on side in my own right but I'm glad it's finally happened." A brilliant attacking player and uncompromising defender, Shipway almost didn't make it into the grand final squad. A broken hand suffered away from the field kept him on the sidelines for the last six weeks of the competition and he now realises Port's lack of match play towards the end was an unexpected bonus. "Not having week-to-week games gave it a chance to mend," he said. "I was champing at the bit to come back for the major semi against Woolgoolga but 'Pazz' (coach Tony Pascoe) wouldn't hear of it. "But there was no way I wouldn't be playing in a grand final, even if I needed painkillers." History shows Shipway was among the Sharks finest in the biggest game of the year. And for one so young his peers are quick to praise, even comparing his on field maturity to great rival, Craig Wallace. "Playing teams as good as Sawtell, Woolgoolga and Macleay with a style similar to our own is an honour," he complimented. "The best teams and players bring out the best in us." Shipway already has a purpose ear-marked for the cash prize that accompanies his award. "Just bought a new car," he grinned. "Thanks to the Coffs Coast Advocate a couple of payments have been taken care of."