New England Nomads president Adrian Walsh has reached an incredible feat for the club.
Before Saturday’s semi-final against the Tamworth Kangaroos, no one had turned out for the Nomads for 200 games.
That changed when Walsh ran out on to the field against the Roos to become the first in the club’s history to reach the milestone.
Walsh has been at the Nomads since 2002 and kept the achievement under wraps until former teammate and last season’s coach Tom Hunt contacted the Armidale Express to dob him in.
Hunt praised Walsh’s efforts on-the-field but lauded his achievements off-the-field.
“He's the heart and soul of the club, we probably wouldn't still be going if it wasn't for him,” he said.
“He is the president of our club, I think he has every role at our club over 20 years and most of the time he has got multiple roles – treasurer and president at the same time or coach and president at the same time.
“Very fitting for him to be the first bloke to reach it, no one else would be more deserving than him.Tom Hunt
“Very fitting for him to be the first bloke to reach it, no one else would be more deserving than him. He didn't want to make a big deal of it.”
Walsh’s dedication to the club was proven on Saturday when he flew back from an overseas holiday to turn out for the Nomads.
“He had been overseas and he wasn't actually selected to play on the weekend but we had a few late withdrawals and he had a few flight changes so he actually played his 200th last Saturday,” Hunt said.
“We were expecting him to play it this Saturday in Gunnedah but true to form we were short on players and he rushed from the other side of the world to fill the spot.”
With the Nomads squads over the years dominated by university students, there are often vacancies in the teams when holidays roll around.
“It is so transient, our club,” Hunt said.
“With all university students it is hard to have those older blokes that hang around and provide all that help for a club so it is good to have him there.
“He might be a bit embarrassed about it but it is a great achievement, particularly given the make-up of our club.
“Some years he might only play 12 games for the season so to get to 200 is a great achievement.”
Walsh has seen a lot of talented, young Australian Rules footballers come through the Nomads and has helped developed a positive culture at the club.
“He has got so much experience and knowledge so he has always been good to learn things from and he has also become a really close mate over those years,” Hunt said.
“He has provided a lot of leadership and mentoring for the younger blokes.
“He is always trying to get the best out of the younger blokes and looking for avenues for them to progress and further their careers.”
In Walsh’s time at the club, the Nomads have played in nine grand finals, winning six and finishing runners-up three times.
Of his 16 years at the club, Walsh nominated the 2012 decider against the Inverell Saints as one of his standout moments.
The Nomads claimed the title that year and went on to win five-straight before their run came to an end in 2017 against Gunnedah.
“For me that 2012 one where we weren't expected to win it,” Walsh said.
“It was the first of the five and we had a whole crew of people that went on to win those five premierships.
“That was probably the best moment at the Nomads.”
Walsh played down his 200-game milestone but his pride of his club shines through.
“It has been one of the best things about being in Armidale over the years,” he said.
“One thing with the Nomads, there is obviously a passing parade of people, but there has been so many wonderful people I have known through that time.”
Walsh also made mention of the improvement in style of the sport played within the region and said Aussie Rules is getting stronger with players progressing to higher levels.
“One of the exciting things was a couple of years ago Sam Naismith getting drafted and Clarrie Barker is down there at North Shore and I am looking forward to seeing where Clarrie ends up,” he said.
“Fingers crossed he could be the first Nomad to get drafted.”