WHENEVER a text from Tumut Blues stalwart Gina Roddy pinged on his phone, current first grade co-coach Adam Pearce knew what was coming.
"Gina would send me a few photos of me when I was playing for the Blues and say 'you'd look good back in a Blues jersey'. It all helped to make me keen to do it," Pearce said.
It only took a few tugs of the heartstrings to convince Pearce to quit Canberra Raiders Cup heavyweights Queanbeyan Kangaroos after a few years, and return to his spiritual home in 2017.
The year before, the Blues had continued a barren and tough few years by finishing with the Group Nine wooden spoon.
Back rower Pearce had often returned home to watch his junior club get spanked, and decided he needed to do something to help.
In 2017 they made the preliminary final, and this Sunday will battle rivals Gundagai in the last round which will decide the minor premiership at Anzac Park.
The Blues have made it a focus over the last few years to bring locals back into the fold to help turn their fortunes around. Adam's brother, front rower Jed, followed suit this year, while Dean and Lachlan Bristow, Jacob Toppin and Ben Roddy are also back in the fold.
"That was probably the most important thing, getting locals back there," Adam Pearce, who shares coaching duties with Dean Bristow, said.
"You can buy as many players as you want if you've got the money, but you're better off getting the locals back to steady the ship a bit and build up the juniors.
"I'd always come back and watch games and they've always said 'you've got to come back'. There was a lot of phone calls and a few messages, then I met up with them (club committee) in town for coffee and they were really interested.
"Dan and Gina Roddy put a lot of effort getting us local blokes back. I think they have to take a lot of credit for getting people back here."
Canberra-based Jed literally drives himself to the brink of exhaustion every week to pull on the Blues jumper.
An electrician by trade, after downing tools on Friday he travels to Tumut for training before returning to Canberra that night.
A 4.30am alarm then awaits on Saturday for work, before he drives to Tumut later that day for football.
"The travelling is pretty hard but it's been good because the team's been going so well, it definitely makes it worth it," he said.
"I had that mindset to start off with. As soon as I signed after not being there a few years, I wanted to give it my all and we've got a good team. Hopefully we can win it (premiership).
"We've only got three signings from out of town but the two Warner boys (Ben and Tom) and Jordy Anderson our halfback, they've really mixed in well.
"Jordy is probably one of the hardest workers in our team and he takes a lot of pride in our jersey as well, it's good to see."
Adam was travelling back three times a week, twice for training and again for games, before he found a scaffolding job in Tumut.
"I only get Jed to come back for training on Friday because I know what it's like," he said.
GREEN SHOOTS FORMED
The Tumbarumba Greens felt the Tumut Nines would be their only football for the year.
Having withdrawn from Group Nine due to a lack of numbers at the end of 2017, the Greens sat out last year before they received a lifeline from the Murray Cup in the midst of playing in the pre-season competition.
This Sunday, after an unbeaten season, they will take on former Group 13 rivals Corowa in the grand final at Albury's Greenfield Park.
It will be the first senior grand final for a handful of Greens players, including halfback Nathan Hammond.
"We didn't know if we'd get into the Murray Cup, the Nines was the only football we thought we'd play for the year, but it created a lot of interest," Hammond said.
"Halfway through the Nines we found out we were in and it rolled on from there. It was obviously really exciting to find out we actually had somewhere to play."
The Greens don't pay any of their players this year, and the team is made up entirely of locals.
A handful of Greens joined other Group Nine teams last year, with others playing for the town's Australian Rules team or rugby union at Tumut.
But once word filtered through the Greens were making a comeback, they all returned to help.
"The main difference is it's all local players, no paid players or imports," Hammond said.
"It's local kids and local players right through the whole thing."
The Greens spent plenty of time raising money for their return, with the biggest the 'Duck Cup' at Tumbafest.
Five hundred plastic ducks are thrown in the creek and punters pay an entry fee with three ducks winning total prizemoney of $2000.
The Greens have shared a ground with the town's Australian Rules team this season while their oval gets a facelift.
Several players play for both teams, and it's a similar story with the town's women's league tag and netball teams.
The league tag side has also qualified for the grand final this Sunday against Charles Sturt University.
"It's good to see the codes in the town helping each other out," Greens president Patrick Wilesmith said.
"The Murray Cup rang us up and it's good we could come to an arrangement. It's good to have the boys running around again, for sure.
"We couldn't compete and raise the money needed every year (to play Group Nine), it was just too hard financially and we didn't have the players to fill reserve grade, it's a better fit for us."
Hammond said their revival would never have happened had they not been given approval to play in the Tumut Nines.
"Probably the biggest thing for us was the Nines competition in Tumut. Their old boys run that, they let us put a side in and interest really grew from that," Hammond said.
"Most clubs you feel come up here to get into us because of where we are on the ladder, which is new to us as well.
"We were on the other side of the coin (in Group Nine), beaten more often than not and sometimes by substantial margins."
THE FIERCE BUT FRIENDLY RIVALRY
Just 37km separates Tumut from Gundagai.
Many Tigers and Blues players are long time mates. Many work together.
But while a friendly beer is always enjoyed between the two teams afterwards, for 80 minutes it's Group Nine's most bitter and fiercest rivalry.
Tumut hasn't beaten Gundagai since 2010, when they won their last first grade premiership. They could drop from first to third with another loss this Sunday, making it one of the biggest regular season derbies in history.
Adam Pearce said the Blues have been guilty of putting too much pressure on themselves to snap the streak and will barely raise the losing run this week.
"Previously we've talked about it a lot during the week and about how much we want to win," Pearce said.
"Some people were maybe thinking about it a little too much. We're trying to take a different approach to it this time."
Jed said the rivalry is instilled in Tumut players as soon as they can walk.
"It's bred in us. It's always a massive clash and we've earmarked this as game of the year," he said.
"We're all mates and get along pretty well, it just completely turns upside down when we start playing footy.
"We hate each other for 80 minutes but after the game we're good again."
Jed said they eventually want to build the club up to the point where they field all five grades, with no under-19s or women's league tag this year.
"We've got some strong age groups coming up, the 13s, 14s and 15s were all in grand finals this year," he said.
"Some of the boys are going to junior games and supporting them to try and get them to follow up through the ranks."
Tumut president Bryan Black said the love for the jersey in instilled in the juniors when they see former players returning to wear it.
"It shows you can go away, but always come back and play for your home town," he said.
"It shows those up-and-coming players we want to keep it as local as we can, and try and allow them to play for the town.
"The rivalry with Gundagai has always been an ongoing thing. But the good thing about it is once they're finished playing and knocking the absolute crap out of each other, they can still go and have a beer and a laugh."
Gundagai treasurer and secretary Martin Hay echoed those sentiments.
"Because the towns are so close we have mates involved in both clubs and it's great to see them (Tumut) being back and competitive again," he said.
"You'll find in most cases if the Tigers aren't competing in finals or grand finals, the Gundagai people will be supporting the Blues if they're in, and I'm pretty sure it's vice-versa.
"The rivalry's been around for a long time and it wouldn't be often that in final round of the competition proper, Gundagai and Tumut are squaring off to see who will be minor premiers.
"I doubt whether that would have ever happened."
HEARTBEAT OF THE TOWN
Not being able to scratch their football itch was tough. But Hammond said the biggest problem with Tumbarumba's hiatus from the game lay off-field.
"You lose that social side that comes with playing sport," he said.
"Through the winter it's cold enough up here that if there's no footy, you want to hibernate and wait for spring to roll around.
"A few of the players went off to other clubs and you go and support them, but other than that you don't have training twice a week to catch up with everyone."