Part of Axemen folklore
By MITCHELL DALE
DURING Matt Donovan's last stint with Orara Valley, he smashed records with the regularity of Greeks smashing plates at a wedding.
Between 1995 and 1998, Donovan wrote himself into Axemen folklore, with his attacking genius generally regarded as being without peer in that period.
During that time he also became one of only three men to captain-coach the Axemen to a Group 2 rugby league first grade premiership.
That achievement came in 1997, the same year he bagged a record-shattering 49 tries in the season, including five in the grand final.
In 2005, after stints at Croma (Manly competition) and South Grafton, Donovan has headed back to Coramba to see out his playing days surrounded by family.
The 34-year-old will join cousin Brad Hart, uncle Brett Davis and brother Paul, while another brother Tim, a classy utility, is also rumoured to be making the odd cameo appearance in the green and yellow.
"I played some of my best football at Orara Valley and wanted to finish things off there," Donovan said this week.
"Playing first grade in Sydney was a big buzz and something I always wanted to achieve, but my most memorable years were with Orara.
"I just like the way the club is, it's a family club, laid-back and there are no big-heads."
At this stage, 2005 will be Donovan's last.
"That's how I feel at the moment anyway," he says. "But I will see how the year goes and how the body feels."
The former Gold Coast and Penrith first-grader realises he is no certainty for a starting position in an Orara backline chock-full of talent.
"I'm not guaranteed a spot in the centres, I will have to work my way in like everyone else," he says.
"The only one who is guaranteed a spot is Brad because he's the coach.
"But it is good for the club if everyone is under pressure to keep their spots each weekend."
Donovan originally put his hand up to captain-coach the Axemen and also threw his hat in the ring for the Bellingen and Woolgoolga jobs.
"I had applied for a couple of jobs around the Group, but I wasn't sure if I was even going to play, so I decided not to coach," he said.
"I started training with Orara and things have worked out well."
After being at the helm of so many teams, including South Grafton Rebels in 2003 and 2004, Donovan admits taking the step back to ordinary player has been a challenge.
"That has been the biggest thing I have had to adjust to," he admits.
"I have been the leader of most sides I have played in, so this is a bit different.
"But, like I said, the good thing about Orara is that there are no big-heads and there are a lot of senior players who all have a bit of in-put, although Brad is the one who makes the final decision.
"At this stage I am enjoying just turning up to training and being one of the boys."
In a footy career littered with highlights, Donovan says his fondest memories are from his time at Orara.
If the attacking genius can rekindle his try-scoring form of 1997 in what shapes as his rugby league swan song, he may well retire with another fond memory ? the 2005 Group 2 premiership.