STEVE McKee knew there were no guarantees. On the verge of turning 35, the former AFL ruckman returned to Yarrawonga without a spot in the team assured.
In fact, not only was a spot unassured, most thought there wouldn’t be one at all.
With Brandon Symes coming off a break-out season in the ruck and Geelong giant Brad Ottens set to enter the Pigeons’ fold, most expected McKee to spend the bulk of the year in the reserves.
That expectation only strengthened, when you considered youngsters Connor Hargreaves and Beau Seymour were improving at a rapid rate.
McKee knew where he stood.
“There were no guarantees when I came back,” McKee told The Border Mail in the lead up to Sunday’s grand final.
“Obviously Symes was coming off a really good year and there were a lot young guys coming off really good years.
“But I would have done that as a coach, too, because you’ve got to keep the young guys coming through.
“But obviously Symes went to the VFL and I’ve ended up shouldering most of the duties this year.
“It’s probably not what the club had in mind.
“I know I certainly wasn’t expecting it.”
Not only was it unexpected, it almost never happened at all.
After heading overseas, following the 2010 grand final defeat, McKee arrived back in Australia in time for the start of last season.
But rather than return to Yarrawonga, McKee went further west to play at Barooga.
Most thought he wouldn’t come back.
But renewed desire over the summer, coupled with some encouragement from Yarrawonga’s pied piper Craig Ednie, saw McKee return to the J.C. Lowe Oval for one final tilt at Ovens and Murray glory.
“Obviously I’m not getting any younger but I just thought I’d give it one more crack at Yarra and see how I held up,” McKee said.
“I always thought if the body held up, I’d be right.
“But like anyone, that’s always a pretty big if.
“But I’ve got through the year pretty well which has been great.
“I’ve dropped a bit of weight and really enjoyed it.”
It’s easy to see why he’s enjoyed it.
McKee’s form has been rock solid all year, almost impossible to ignore.
So much so, the former Collingwood and Richmond tall earned a shock interleague call up in May, a whopping 17 years after he last represented the league.
“That definitely wasn’t expected,” McKee said.
“But I really enjoyed it.
“You make the most of things like that at my age.”
McKee has missed just three games for the season through unavailability, more than anything, and proven an invaluable cog in the Yarrawonga machine.
“I wouldn’t say I’ve dominated, or set the world on fire, but I think I’ve contributed,” McKee said.
“Hopefully I’ve got one more good game left in me.”
That’s traditionally been a problem for McKee.
He’s played in two losing grand finals, with the first of those losses coming in the 2006 decider against Yarrawonga, of all teams.
But like most of his Pigeon teammates managed to do last year, McKee will be hoping to put some grand final demons to rest come Sunday.
It might be McKee’s last chance. At 35, he concedes he’s unlikely to go around again.
“Hopefully I go out on the right note,” he said.