Guy Stringer puts his amazing longevity in the Mornington Peninsula Football League down to "a bit of luck and genetics".
Stringer, 39, is set to break the MPNFL games record on Saturday when he runs out for Sorrento against Frankston Bombers.
The amazing thing about Stringer is some pundits believe he is playing as well as ever on the eve of his 346th MPNFL game. "The blokes on the hill at Sorrento reckon I have got five years left in me," Stringer says, laughing.
It's no joking matter. Stringer won Sorrento's best-and-fairest award last season - a year in which the Sharks won the Nepean League premiership. It sits nicely with his other achievements, which include 21 interleague appearances for the MPNFL since his senior debut in 1989.
The modest Stringer, a self-employed electrician who lives in Mt Eliza and whose work takes him across the peninsula, has no plans to retire from football, but admits he is one major injury away from the end.
"I guess it is probably passion, luck and genetics - your body has got to be able to handle it. I've had no major injuries. That's probably the main thing. Nothing except a calf injury, cracked ribs and few niggles little along the way.
"At this point I will play on again next year but you never know what will happen - I could get a bad injury and that would probably be it."
Sharks coach and former St Kilda player Troy Schwarze is amazed by Stringer. "He doesn't do pre-seasons. He just turns up and is fit and ready to play. He's great for morale around the club. He's like a little kid - he jumps out of his skin."
Stringer played under-19s with St Kilda in 1991 under present Red Hill coach Gary Colling, but nothing came of it.
Schwarze is just one person who believes the higher level wasn't beyond the versatile utility. "He's been phenomenal. I put him alongside blokes that I have played AFL with," Schwarze says.
The journey for Stringer began at Sorrento and is set to finish at Sorrento on a yet-to-be-determined date. The middle stages were played out at Pines, Hastings and Edithvale-Aspendale and a short stint in the VFA at Frankston. This puts his senior games tally somewhere in the vicinity of 400.
Former coach and close mate Leigh Carpenter has had a huge influence on Stringer's career. He lured him away from Sorrento to Pines, again calling on him to join him at Hastings in 2000, after Stringer's two seasons with the Dolphins.
Carpenter first laid eyes on Stringer when he was representing the MPNFL in an interleague match in the middle of 1994.
He believed Pines were close to a flag, so he cold-called Stringer mid-season, hoping a key position player could be the final piece of the premiership jigsaw.
"He was playing at Sorrento back in '94 and I don't think they'd won a game. I gave him a ring and on the Wednesday of that week he agreed to come across. That's how I got to know him and then became really good friends with his mum and dad and the family."
It turned into a fruitful relationship - Stringer played in Pines' premiership that year and established himself as one of the competition's stars.
Stringer even spent a few summers in Darwin playing football, always returning to play on the peninsula in the winter. He joined Carpenter at Hastings for the 2000 season, winning the club's 2002 best-and-fairest award.
After returning to Sorrento in 2004, he replicated his father Keith's achievement of playing in a premiership with the Sharks.
He then crossed to Edithvale-Aspendale, where he had played the 2003 season. He won the best and fairest award there in 2006, before returning again to the Sharks the following season.
His legacy has been further enhanced since returning to the Sharks. With the club in desperate need of a target in attack, Stringer won his first goalkicking award.
Stringer's bulging book of honours also includes the 2008 and 2010 premierships.
Stringer, into his 23rd season of senior football, admits training has never been a big focus.
While he believes his laidback approach "is not the best approach for a young player", he says it keeps him fresh. Fitness work over the pre-season is done away from the club - "I spend most of my time chasing my seven-year-old son around. That keeps me on my toes".
Carpenter has a different take on Stringer: he says his mate needs a challenge. "Guy is the type of player - because of his ability - who can just coast along. If you gave him a bit of needle and set him a challenge he will always rise to it," Carpenter says.
"He would never fail to play well in big games. As soon as you're playing finals or he'd be playing inter-league, you'd know he'd be at the top of his game. You saw that last year, when at 38 he was best on ground in a grand final."
As for Stringer's work ethic, Carpenter gives his mate one final 'sting'. "He doesn't train very hard, he's not a great track horse. He has the attitude that 'why train if you don't have to'.
"But having said that, his rehab is very structured. He was probably one of the first blokes to start going down to the beach for recovery."
Stringer says his home club is Sorrento. He loves the club, so it's fitting that he'll break Crib Point's Warwick Graham's mark of 345 games in front of the Sharks' faithful at David McFarlane Reserve.
Football, for him, has never been about the individual. "Most of the things I have done in footy I've kept in the vault and you're only as good as your last game," Stringer says. "You can't play footy on your own and I'm rapt to be able to play this many games."
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