The love of the game
MICK Wood, Al Nowlan and Shane Jacobs have a lot in common - they were all there for the inaugural Far North Coast LJ Hooker League cricket season in 1994-95.
And all three will play in the Hooker League two-day final when Ballina Bears host the Casino Cavaliers at Fripp Oval, Ballina, today and tomorrow.
Nowlan and Woods will take the field for Casino, while Jacobs will play his final game on his home wicket for Bears.
Wood will also play his last game, but not if Nowlan can help it.
"He's going too well to retire," Nowlan said.
"We might get him to go one more season yet; we'll see what happens."
Wood is happy to finish up after seeing the club he loves evolve and win five two-day finals since the 1994-95 season.
Casino has gone back-to-back twice in 1998-99 and 1999-2000 and 2009-10 and 2010-11.
"We're a lot tougher now than we were in 1994," Wood said.
"It's fair to say the Cavaliers were very cavalier at the time.
"We played exciting cricket but that style didn't really suit when it came to the business end of the season.
"Going back-to-back for the first time was the culmination of five or six years of hard work."
Jacobs has also seen the game change after almost two decades in the top grade.
"Like most sports the standard has dropped off a bit," Jacobs said.
"A lot of teams only have seven or eight really good first-graders now instead of 11.
"In 1994 there were more seasoned campaigners that had experience in Sydney and England.
"It's a big commitment with training and travel, and people do it hard with work these days.
"We've had some good young blokes in our system for 10 years now and we've just been trying to work with them as much as we can.
"I played interdistrict cricket against Al and Mick a long time ago and we've kept involved for so long because we love the game.
"Al gives his all every week and is still one of the leading wicket-takers in the competition."
Wood won't be completely lost to the Cavaliers as he plans to play in the Casino lower grades and work with younger players.
The all-rounder won't be fazed by anything that comes his way this weekend.
"At the end of the day I consider myself an average cricketer who's just been part of a sensational side," he said.