The obvious first question would be why? Why now? Why in the VB NSW Cup with Wyong? I mean Mark O’Meley has done everything in the game that there is to do and probably has every right just to call it a day and ease his way into retirement.
O’Meley has won an NRL Premiership, represented his state and country with great success however this season in the VB NSW Cup may present him with his toughest challenge yet. But it is one that you get a sense he is ready for.
Having debuted in the top grade as a teenager, O’Meley has already had a long career in the game but was still presented with the opportunity to continue that into his mid-thirties overseas, however at 32 years young and a veteran of close to 300 games, between his time in the NRL and the English Super League, the man affectionately known as ‘Ogre’ or ‘Shrek’ knew it was time to return to Australia after spending his past few years in the old dart.
“I was always coming back to Australia,” O’Meley said.
“I originally went (to England) for two years but stayed for four however my eldest son is sixteen now and I couldn’t be selfish and stay any longer because with the kids and their schooling and so forth, they had played second fiddle to my career in a sense so now was the time to prioritise them a bit more.
Upon his return, O’Meley knew that he still had some football left in him and it was just a matter of where and with whom, but once Wyong made contact, the choice became fairly clear.
“I had a few meetings with Wyong after returning home and I gave it a fair bit of thought because if I was going to commit I had to do it 100%.
“I didn’t want to be one of those guys that come back and embarrassed themselves… and after speaking to guys like Mase (Willie Mason), Fitzy (Craig Fitzgibbon) and Andrew Ryan and got a good gauge on the quality of the competition I think I signed with Wyong on New Year’s Eve.”
In many ways it’s a homecoming of sorts for O’Meley. He and the family now reside on property in the area and he was also a Central Coast junior and even spent a season or two with the Roos as a teenager.
O’Meley will not only lead the Roos pack on the park during the 2014 VB NSW Cup season, he will also be an invaluable leader off it. The Roos are still a very young club in terms of their presence in the competition and O’Meley’s leadership qualities, experience and ability to mentor some of the younger players at the club should give them a real shot in the arm moving forward.
“That side of things is something I have always enjoyed and made many friendships over the year through those kinds of relationships with players at clubs.
“We are still a young club and for us it is about establishing our identity and what that means for the Central Coast… providing pathways for our local juniors and giving them something to aspire for.
“The Central Coast doesn’t have a first grade (NRL) side but people will hopefully realise they have the next best thing here and get behind us.”
Having played with the Roos former VB NSW Cup coach, Paul Stringer, at the now defunct Northern Eagles in the early 2000’s, O’Meley had taken interest in their inaugural season and seems to understand the challenges in which both he and the club will face moving forward.
“It was always going to be a tough first year for the club because it all came around so quickly for them and there would be teething problems and they were going to have to crawl before they walked so to speak… but that infrastructure has been laid now and we are beginning to create our identity.
“We need to create our own brand and let the fans see that we are giving 100% effort and give them a reason to come and watch us and support us.
“We’re still a young team and we have got a lot to learn but we are going to go out there with the right attitude and if we can get better each and every week and continue to build a good culture I think we will get the support of the local community and I reckon we will shock a few teams.”
It is somehow fitting that this weekend, in what will be Mark’s first VB NSW Cup appearance for the club, that he will face the North Sydney Bears. The Bears are the club where Mark made his NRL debut way back in 1999 and the irony of facing them was not lost on him when this was brought up.
“I saw the draw the other week and I thought that’s pretty ironic (playing against the Bears) but the Bears have a good association with South Sydney recently and they have a strong team so it is probably something (playing against them) that I will look back at over time and think it was a bit strange but right now I just have to focus and prepare for the match.”
So having now sat down with Mark for a bit of time and hearing the passion for which he still speaks of the game that has given him so much. I ask myself once again… But why? Why here with this team in this competition?
It’s not about the prestige and the glitz and glamour of second tier footy and it can’t be about the money, because if it was about the money he would still be in England.
And eventually it just occurs to you that the answer, while a very simple one is ‘Why not?’ it’s the right thing to do, for Mark and his family.
And isn’t it great to see.
Mark and the Roos will face the Bears this Saturday afternoon up at Morry Breen Oval and NSWRL.com.au will be there providing updates via our 'Match Centre'