In 15 years at Temora, Damien Ponting has lived the highs and lows of football and learnt to enjoy them both.
In the next month, perhaps a little more, he’ll ride the roller coaster again – playing his 250th first grade game with the Kangaroos this Saturday, knowing the once-unthinkable concept of retirement is a game closer.
The 37-year-old will take off the number three guernsey for the last time when Temora’s finals campaign ends.
“I’ve had a pretty good run. Like I’ve said to the boys, I don’t want to be the has-been, pushing on for a couple of years, clogging up a spot,” he said, adding that work commitments have made it difficult to train.
“It’s too hard to just show up on Saturday morning and get into the game if you haven’t been training, so it’s probably the best time to pull the pin.”
In a perfect world, Ponting will have four more wins with Temora, to finish on 253 first grade games, including a fourth premiership to go with the flags of 2012-14.
“I’d like to go right through and win a grand final and go out on that note. That’s something you dream of. And we can actually do it,” Ponting said. “We’re going to play finals and anything can happen once you’re there.
“I couldn’t have been prouder of Temora on Saturday. We went down to North Wagga but we matched it with them all day. If that’s the benchmark of where we’ve got to be, I think we can still be in the mix with those top couple of sides that are pretty hot (Saints and Marrar).
“If we click now and things keep going our way, there’s no reason we can’t be in another grand final.”
Last year’s narrow grand final loss to Marrar still hurts, while the premiership hat-trick was the high-point of a decorated career for the midfielder-forward.
But Ponting, who coached the Kangaroos in 2011, said even the lean times were good times.
“I’ve seen the low parts but I still reckon they were some of the best times. You couldn’t take a trick on the field but you found other things to keep blokes interested in being around the footy club,” he said.
“It didn’t always have to be winning premierships. And I think it worked. A lot of blokes still talk about the times we had when we weren’t that successful as a club.
“I wouldn’t take it back at all. Anything. I’m glad I got a taste of the premierships but it’s just a bloody added bonus.”
Temora are intent on celebrating the career of a club champion against Barellan on Saturday.
Ponting arrived in 2003, having already played more than 100 senior games at his Tasmanian club Winnaleah (where he debuted aged just 14).
He said he could never have imagined racking up 250 more at Temora.
“It’s bloody exciting actually," he said. “I knew it was coming up but I knew I couldn’t bank on it either, if I got injured or something.
“To spend that much time at one club, it is pretty exciting. But if you’re happy, you don’t want to go anywhere else.”
Ponting says he’s been exactly that, both on and off the field.
He started work with Barney and Angela Hughes when he arrived. He is still with them today and thanks them enormously. Their generosity and support was typical of the whole town, he found.
“That’s a massive thing that kept me at the club – just great people,” he said.
“It wouldn’t matter if you were a gun footballer or no ability at all, if you were willing to give a bit to the footy club, they were going to give back.
“They’ve looked after me in a massive way and I’m going to owe them for a long time. It’s an unbelievable town and community and I can’t thank them enough for what they’ve done for me and my family.”
His partnership with Scott Blackwell – including coaching each other, and sharing in that drought-breaking flag – has been memorable.
But in recent seasons Ponting’s enjoyed witnessing the arrival of a generation of players who have come through in his time at the club.
“The group we've had over the last five or six years, it’s a whole crew that I've seen come through from the 17s,” he said.
“To see them coming right through the ranks, it’s been a great thing.
“And now kids like young Will Reinhold – I still remember him walking around the football ground when the footy was nearly bigger than him. Now he’s a big boy and he’s going to be a star.
“To see that sort of thing around the club, it’s massive. A lot of blokes don’t get to see all that.
“I feel privileged to have had that. You want that in a club.”
Reflecting on his career, Ponting doesn’t forget his home town and club, and the neighbour and first grade coach who used to pick him up after school and take him for a kick, before giving the petrified teenager his first shot at senior footy.
And he doesn’t forget his opponents either.
“Chris Gow, from Collingullie, every time we played them – it wouldn’t matter if it was at Temora or out at ‘Gullie – we’d have a beer afterwardsy. His old man would be waiting at the boundary and drag us in for a beer,” Ponting recalled.
“We played on each other every single game, and we’d get into each other a bit but I have that much respect for Chrissy, and no grudges at the end of it. I love that about footy. I probably didn’t win too many battles against him but he was a great bloke.”
And so, when the end comes after more than 350 first grade games, Damien Ponting is going to miss footy. But he’ll always have the memories.