Despite the long history of our club, the 300-game milestone is one that has been rarely broken. This weekend, club legend Leigh McWhirter becomes a member of our most exclusive group. His former teammate, fellow Life Member and long time friend Brett Pettersen has shared a few thoughts on the life and times of Lethal.
The boy from Rosebud sure has come a long way. His time at the club has been like a good love song – there have been the ups and downs but it never gets old. Clichés, puns and cheeky references about receding hairlines aside, playing 300 games at this club is a rare and special feat.
From uncertain beginnings, Lethal as we would later call him started with the club in 2001 or thereabouts with peroxide blonde hair and a hometown nickname of Moony that belied his penchant to flash his pasty posterior after getting sucked into some niggle from the outer (a regular occurrence in the early days). Our gain would become North Shore’s loss – an initial training run or two there showed he would not fit in but with a long history of embracing a wide range of characters, Sydney Uni would soon be somewhere Leigh would find his feet in the big smoke and showed he truly belonged.
On the footy side of things, the young Lethal was a Jamie Elliott style lead up marking mid-sized forward but had to compete with hungry club stalwarts like Mitch, Magnet and later Jezza, Wako, JC and Stocky for space and supply within the forward 50. Clearly talented but often inconsistent and more than occasionally erratic, the making of the player we see today was a switch to half back which led to more consistent senior opportunities. Ultimately Lethal was able to become a key cog in strong grand final and premiership teams. As an attacking backman with good decision making and balancing risk-reward, he showed laser like foot skills well before the much later self-titled clubman of the same nickname. He was also a true two-way player well before commentators like Brian Taylor would use the description with all the authority of a stay at home key forward from the 1980’s. As the years went on, league and club awards across multiple grades followed though we suspect that being one of the most well-known players (care of a Sydney AFL Record cover spread and a knack for niggling and being niggled by every player and umpire across the competition) helped get him the extra votes to get over the line in more than one occasion. 15 years on and not much has changed, Lethal continuing to be a key senior figure in whatever team he has featured. Moving wherever he was needed most, including midfield grunt, decoy key forward, pinch hitting ruck, kicking bags himself, playing loose man floating across half back, he probably won more than a handful of games off his own boot. Just the other week, Lethal again did what was necessary, pushing himself deep into the last line of defense to take the winning mark to ice a game. Smarts, uncompromising competitive drive to win, putting his body on the line and just doing whatever his team needs would be the hallmark of a resilient and decorated playing career.
Off-field, Leigh has been one of those key glue/fabric/backbone/insert another appropriate adjective here for the club. A life member for his service to the club, Leigh has been a key contributor to the administration of the club, club leader, social mainstay, bridge between multiple generations and taking on co-coaching and assistant coaching roles with aplomb. Always one of the boys, rarely will a social occasion be missed despite in recent years meaning 70-80km round trips from work and home in Western Sydney and the increasing pressures of a young family, work and finishing uni. Who could forget his Blades of Glory inspired performance at the Henson Park velodrome to kick off yet another pub crawl. Memorable for the chicken dance signature moves at the Shelbourne, a constant of almost every post training and Saturday Flodge session, a veteran pub crawl and end of season trip campaigner, Lethal was equally comfortable being the target of friendly derision amongst his mates or backing his mates up and giving them some friendly support.
In the mid noughties Leigh was secretary in the days of physical paperwork for every part of the process, he knew every player at the club (across 3 then 4 then 5 grades) and made them all welcome and special. Again, doing whatever it took, Leigh would often just do whatever needed to be picked up, rarely if ever having to be asked, making sure gear got to where it needed to get to, team manager duties covered, players registered or entered into FootyWeb late on a Friday night, BBQ covered or whatever else it might have been that particular day. A rough diamond to begin with, like many young blokes before him, Lethal matured as a man and respected voice amongst his peers.
I guess we could even conclude that this lengthy resume has meant he can only now be considered the best of his own family, finally pipping his much better looking, smooth moving but oft-injured brother with the apt nickname Toxic.
Please join me in congratulating Lethal on reaching this superb milestone and let’s hope there are a few more Johnny Farnham-esque come backs in him yet.
Leigh McWhirter – 300 Games
Premierships – 2003, 2005, 2013 (Asst Coach)
Runners Up – 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010
2008 Sanders Medalist (League B&F)
Life Member 2010
Div 1 Club Leading Goalkicker – 2007, 2008, 2009
Club Best in Finals 2004
Club Committee 2005 – 2009