IT WOULD be almost impossible to calculate the time Mark McGann has put into community football.
But he doesn’t do it for attention or recognition.
The man better known as “Cheezel” gives up his time because he wants to create greater opportunities for others.
Little did Mark know that a chance sighting at one of his regular visits to Echuca United training sessions would open his eyes to a world which would become one of his great passions.
Mark was about to become a member of the Echuca Moama Rockets family.
“I finished coaching junior football at Echuca United and my stepson had just finished playing and I thought I was just about done,” he recalled.
“Then down at the club one night, I noticed a group of guys on the other side of the oval and went over to investigate.”
The group on the other side of Echuca South Recreation Reserve were the Rockets.
“I became interested in what they were doing and soon after Phillip “Flippa” Evans called me up and asked me if I wanted to get involved and be a representative from Echuca United,” Mark said.
“It was an opportunity I couldn’t knock back.”
From there, the club and Mark’s role grew at a rapid pace.
Sometimes he thought he wouldn’t be able to keep up.
But he always knew support was never far away.
“There was a group of three of us including Flippa and Troy Murphy who were putting everything together when I first became involved,” he said.
‘“Flippa and Troy had been involved for a long time. So, I had to learn from them.
“I started to do more when we got our own designated Auskick group, which was a massive boost for us.
“Originally the Rockets were piggy-backing on United’s Auskick program, and we got to a point where some kids were getting too old, so we needed a way to keep a system running.
“In the end, we got the AFL on board and convinced them to change age groups as such so that we could keep players to an older age.
“Everything is made a lot easier by the support we get from the Echuca-Moama community.
“The Rockets are a community football club - it is Echuca-Moama’s football club.”
But even with all the hours Cheezel has put in, you can always count on him to keep coming back.
“The enjoyment you get out of seeing these kids and adults loving their football is amazing,” he said.
“You have your fun with your able-bodied players but with this group everything is just, fun, fun, fun all the time.
“Some of their reactions, to what other people might take for granted, really makes you smile. For example, hitting a target with the football.
“When I was playing, I would expect to do that. But once I was involved with the Rockets it made me think differently.”
The Rockets junior program has plenty of highlights including the annual trip to Melbourne and one-and-all inclusion game.
That makes it almost impossible for Mark to choose a point of the year he enjoys most.
“I take a lot of pride in everything that we do,” he said.
“With the one and all inclusion game, we originally played with United’s under 14s but I thought a good way to expand it would be to include community people. And that has been a real success.
“When we go to Melbourne, it is mind-blowing to see the kids’ reactions – even just when they step outside the MCG, they are just in awe.
“Those AFL games have just been a massive turnaround for us. Some of the participants come right out of their shell just for the day.
“Having one of the kids be the first person to play footy in a wheelchair on the MCG was a big milestone. It turned a lot of heads about inclusion in football.
“Just seeing family members on the sidelines, nearly in tears watching their kids, because they never thought they would be able to play football. It makes you feel good.
“Everything we do is about the players wanting to show off their skills and what the club is about.”
But the juniors aren’t the only stars of the show with the Rockets senior players competing in FIDA carnivals throughout the year.
“It is always good fun,” Mark said.
“Those guys are just crazy when it comes to game day. They train two or three times before they play.
“The excitement builds every week leading into those games. For them to get together with other football teams is very exciting.
“They’ve built some great friendships with players from other clubs, so it is a win-win situation.”
Despite being better known for his work with the Rockets, it can’t be forgotten McGann played a vital role in helping the development of United’s next generation of stars.
Although, he doesn’t like to talk too much about his own playing days.
“I wasn’t much of a footballer. I enjoyed the social side of the game more than anything else,” he said.
“I have some great memories from running around in the reserves at United and playing my junior footy at Tongala.
“But coaching is where I think I excelled. When I met my partner, her son got to an age where he wanted to start playing footy.
“Sure enough he ended up down at Echuca United.
“I ended up wandering down there one night thinking ‘it’s three weeks into the year, I should be right and won’t be asked to coach’. But I ended up walking straight into a junior coaching role.
“And in the end, I did about eight years of junior footy.”
In those sides, McGann oversaw several players who have gone onto forge successful senior careers across the region.
“Justin Cantwell has gone onto be a terrific leader for whatever team he has played for. And it’s great to see him now back at United,” Mark explained.
“Axel Childs is one of the best players when you’re speaking about pure talent and he’s ended up winning multiple premierships with Kyabram.
“Even going down to United and seeing guys I coached playing in the seniors and reserves gives you a lot of pride.”
Mark could talk for days on end about his love of the game but ask him about his nickname and you are just met with a smile.
“I haven’t told too many people, and I don’t think I will,” he said.
“When I was a kid, I had bright red hair and that’s where I’ll leave it.”
All we do know is that without Cheezel, football in Echuca-Moama wouldn’t be where it is today.
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