Life is good these days for Graham Mackay. Once a barnstorming winger for club, state and country, the 1991 Panthers premiership winner now spends just as much time casting a line as he does earning a crust on the sunny Gold Coast.
“Yep, I look after the grounds at a resort up here and it’s a pretty good lifestyle – the hours are great,” the 42-year-old told NRL.com this week.
“I just go to work each day and when I get home, if it’s a nice day we might go fishing when the kids get home from school or something like that… I don’t mind doing a bit of fishing.
“So I can’t complain. I haven’t been down to Sydney for a while but I imagine it’s a bit more hectic than it is up here!”
Unlike the ferocious try-scorer who terrorised opponents for 12 seasons with six different clubs between 1988 and 1998, Mackay presents more as a laconic country boy these days and is clearly revelling in what his post-football life has brought.
Having returned from England in late 2002 after brief stints with Leeds, Bradford and Hull, he is very much the family man, with most of his spare time spent ‘relaxing’ with his five kids.
But the passion for football hasn’t died and Mackay still finds time to head out to Skilled Park a few times a year.
“I’ve been out to a few games and my young bloke is a Sharkies supporter, so we always see them when they’re up here… he just sits there and shakes his head [at their poor form of the past few years],” Mackay laughs.
While Mackay spent time with a number of clubs – debuting for Western Suburbs in 1988 before heading to Penrith, the Roosters, South Queensland, the Gold Coast and Manly – he is best remembered for his time at the foot of the mountains where he spent four seasons and was a member of the club’s maiden premiership side in 1991.
“I still remember it like it was yesterday,” he says. “If you asked any of the guys they would probably say the same thing because you’re at the club more than you are at home, when you’re playing.
“We knew we had a pretty good side that year. We had the pre-season comp and straight away you sense that you’re going to have a good year.
“But to win the comp… it’s a great memory.”
The grand final itself remains one of the greats. Trailing 12-6 at half-time, a brilliant Brad Izzard try saw the scores levelled before Greg Alexander put the Panthers in front 13-12 with six minutes remaining. Minutes later, with the clock ticking down and forced into a line drop-out, Canberra attempted a short re-start but the ball bounced into the arms of a raging Mark Geyer who promptly sent veteran hooker Royce Simmons over for his second try of the game.
“That’s my main memory of the game: Royce’s second try,” Mackay recalls. “It was pretty freaky how it happened with the short drop-out and ‘MG’ offloading the ball to him. That was the moment when we knew we’d won the game.
“They were great times but unfortunately the club went through a tough time not long after that with Ben Alexander’s death and then Super League when everyone went their separate ways.
“Within a couple of years there were only a few blokes left there, which was a bit of a shame. But I still look back at my time with the club with fond memories.”
Mackay’s loyalties remain split these days and he admits to following the fortunes of Penrith – who lock horns with the Raiders this Saturday in a 20-year anniversary rematch of that 1991 decider – the Titans and Wests Tigers.
But, of course, a soft spot remains for the club that brought him one of the most famous of all premiership wins.
“I started at Western Suburbs so I do follow them although they don’t really have the same identity of the old club any more – and obviously living up here I keep an eye on the Titans as well,” he says.
“But I definitely have a soft spot for Penrith and if I had to pick one side I follow more than any other it would probably have to be the Panthers.
“It’s a shame they’ve had such a bad start to the year with a few injuries which will only make it worse for them. Having said that, they didn’t go too bad last week.
“I think we’ll find out against Canberra this week if they’ve got enough depth in their squad. If not I think it might be a bit of a hard year for them.”