MANLY Oval has played host to Test cricketers, international rugby players and even Santa over its 100-plus years as the peninsula's oldest sporting venue.
But there was a first for the Village Green last Friday when a funeral procession did a detour from nearby St Andrew's Presbyterian Church to complete a lap of honour around the ground.
The Manly Marlins received special permission to make the journey at the end of the service for much loved former player and devoted volunteer Russell "Rusty" Mackie.
The original plan was to have the hearse drive around the ground but that proved too tricky, so Rusty's pall bearers wheeled their old mate's coffin around the perimeter as mourners stood and applauded while a lone piper played the bagpipes.
It was as moving a farewell as you are ever likely to see and a fitting tribute to a bloke who spent more time at Manly Oval than anyone.
Rusty loved the idea of doing a final lap of the ground and also instructed his family to bury him in his number two Manly jumper and famous red-turned-pink Marlins shorts. The cheeky bugger slipped in one last demand - All Blacks undies under the shorts as a nod to his homeland.
There have been lots of wonderful words spoken and written about Rusty since his death, aged 74, but former Manly coach Brian Melrose summed it up best.
Melrose wrote: "Modern team building gurus are brought in from around the world to inspire and unify teams. The words 'resilience', 'commitment', 'work ethic' and 'care' are bandied around like confetti. In more cases than not, they are empty words on a post-it note that make teams feel good about themselves.
"Rusty was everything that players and teams need to be and didn't need a textbook on culture to find out. He was a living embodiment of the ability to connect to a cause greater than yourself."
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