FIVE months ago Hamilton captain Mat Austin was losing his biggest fan, his mother Jennifer, to motor neurone disease.
Running out again for Olympic, in any game, was the furthest thing from his mind.
GRAND FINAL: State League grand final captains John Bennis, of Broadmeadow Magic, and Mat Austin, of Hamilton Olympic. Picture: Peter Stoop
But tomorrow he will continue to respect the wishes of his late mother when he leads Olympic for the last time, chasing a grand final win against Broadmeadow to end his playing days and an 18-year stint at the club.
“At the beginning of the year I was missing a lot of training sessions and I missed the first few games because of it,” Austin said of supporting his mother in her 10-month battle with MND.
“Then I wasn’t too keen to go back, but mum and me had a talk and she said, ‘Just keep going, just play.’ “
The 36-year-old did just that, returning to the field for Olympic’s under 23s side on April 14. Three days later, Jennifer Austin died, aged 60.
Five days later, Mat played in Hamilton’s first-grade side for the round-three 1-all draw with Valentine and earned players’ player honours.
He was players’ player in Hamilton’s next two matches and played a key role as they dominated their rivals to clinch the club’s first Northern NSW State League top-grade minor premiership with a round to play.
“It’s amazing to finish with the minor premiership after so long with the club and never having won one,” he said.
“Every game’s been different, a different player steps up each time.”
Austin racked up 300 first-grade games for Olympic in the final round last year and the club celebrated by naming the stand at Darling Street Oval in his honour.
He has played in five of Hamilton’s six grand final wins but was determined to finish with another victory to honour his mum’s memory.
“It would have been good for her to be here for the grand final,” he said. “Last time I played in one she was on the field with us after the game celebrating.
“It would have been nice, but we’ll do it for her.”
And win or lose tomorrow, Austin said the time was right to retire.
“It’s been a tough year,” he said. “When mum passed away, that was sort of keeping me out there.
“She loved going to games and watching. She didn’t miss a game, watching me and my brothers, from when we were little kids. But now that she’s passed, it’s time.”
Coach Michael Bolch said Austin had been an inspiration to his teammates this year.
“After he came into the side five days after his mum passed away, he’s been outstanding,” Bolch said.
“He’s really the fabric of the club, he’s the one all the younger players look up to.
“He’s just a great bloke with a great character.
“A lot of other blokes wouldn’t have handled it as well as he has, and it’s a testament to the sort of person he is.”
Bolch said Jennifer Austin was a mother-figure to many at the club, where Mat’s brother Trent was also a key player in their golden era of six grand final wins between 1998 and 2009.
“All the young mothers sat with her at the games, she was always back at the pub with us after the games,” he said.
“She was always there and she’s been missed by everyone at the club.”