IT IS typical of Russell Mackie he chose October to draw his final breath. There's no way "Rusty" would impact on the footy season, even in death.
Nothing would get between him and his beloved Marlins.
Cancer took hold of Rusty a couple of years back but he hardly missed a game or training session despite being in immense pain at times. There were others to help out but Rusty wasn't one for offloading his duties, even if it was to his detriment at times. He confided just recently - with just the slightest tinge of regret at the odd relationship lost - he often put the club before anything else. He just couldn't get the Marlins out of his blood.
It was that way from the day he came over from the Petersham club, at Slaggy Miller's insistence, in 1971. Rusty was living in Manly and it made sense to link with the Blues rather than make those endless trips across the bridge.
For the next 50 years, he played, refereed, ran the line, ran the water, helped set up the field, helped pack away the field, gave rubdowns, strapped players (so tight blood circulation would be cut off!), cleaned the dressing room and sang Manly Boom Boom at the top of his voice after each victory.
Whether it be fifth grade or first, Rusty gave the same level of support. If you wore the red and blue - on or off the field - that was good enough for him.
After a bad loss I'd often cross paths with Rusty on the sideline and flash him a "what the hell was that?" look. "Not good, Ads," he'd say, "but we'll be back next week." Bagging coaches or players wasn't Rusty's go and nor did he cop fair weather types. You stick with your club through good times and bad - and Rusty saw plenty of both.
He was there in 1983 when the Alan Jones-coached Blues upset the mighty Ella-led Randwick to win the Shute Shield at the old Sydney Sports Ground.
Fourteen years later he flew back from New Zealand, where he was helping out the Manly Juniors on a rep tour, to witness the Marlins' grand final win over Eastwood. There was no way he was missing that, arriving just a few hours before kick-off and partying all night back at the old Sydney Road clubhouse.
He liked a drink did Rusty - he almost single-handedly kept Tooheys Old going - but only after every chore was ticked off.
Everyone at Manly knew Rusty's passing was inevitable but it still didn't soften the blow when the sad news filtered through on Saturday afternoon. The reaction from the entire rugby community showed just how many people he touched, no matter their allegiance.
Manly Oval won't be the same without Rusty - wearing those trademark red shorts long turned salmon pink - working the sidelines. No-one is irreplaceable, so they say, but you could argue a good case here. There will never be another Russell Mackie.
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