A grand career ... Nathan Hindmarsh. Photo: Sahlan Hayes
NATHAN Hindmarsh is OK for now, but he knows it is going to hit him at the end of tomorrow night's game. The realisation he won't ever play football again. And with that realisation will come the inevitable emotion. When something has been a huge part of your life for so long and it comes to an end, that is a lot to process.
It will be a lot for Hindmarsh's Parramatta teammate, Luke Burt, as well, and for St George Illawarra pair Ben Hornby and Dean Young. All four retire after the game at ANZ Stadium.
Every year, we see players move on, from the greats through to those on whom the spotlight didn't shine but who gained the respect of their peers nevertheless. It is obviously rare to have four such highly respected players go out in the one game, but Hindmarsh will still be the central figure. Such is his standing.
Nathan Hindmarsh, a Parramatta legend
Nathan Hindmarsh on the attack against Newcastle, 2000. Photo: Dallas Kilponen
''Before the game I think it'll be exactly the same as I prepare for every other match,'' he said. ''I'll be ready to play a game, but once I'm out there I think it will feel like no other match. And once the full-time siren goes I expect there will be emotion, because I love playing the game and I'm not playing it again after this weekend. After the game I think it will sink in, and after the beer stops flowing it will probably kick in even more.''
Hindmarsh has prepared well for the future, in terms of being able to continue making a living while remaining part of the game. He has either negotiated or is in the process of negotiating media deals and other opportunities. But he knows he cannot get used to actually not playing again until it happens.
''I don't know if anyone's ever ready for retirement. I'm happy with the decision I've made, but there's always going to be a little part of me that wants to keep playing … But everyone knows there is a time, and that it has to come, and the time for me is on Sunday. I'm not scared of retirement, but I am a bit nervous about what to expect. I've done this for 15 years at first-grade level, and I suppose it's a bit like leaving school. I'm excited, but a bit nervous about, you know, the great unknown.''
Hindmarsh announced his retirement plans after the first few rounds of this season, but he had made up his mind during the off-season. But, as is understandable when you're giving up something you love doing, Hindmarsh has second-guessed himself.
''I did seriously think about going back on the decision, a couple of times. Something would happen, like I'd have a really good time with the boys at training one day and think, 'Jeez, I'd love to do this again', just purely for that part part of it. But then commonsense prevailed. I'd leave training and get in the car and think, 'Yeah, that's all fine and good, but can you play another 26 rounds?' The answer was no.
''I couldn't do another season … I don't train much with the boys now - I'm on a different program to the rest of them, to manage my body - and I'm tired. I wouldn't get through a pre-season now, I don't think, and I wouldn't get through a full season of playing, either. I'm just tired, and I've got a few niggles that flare up. I think it's the brain as well as the body.''
Life has changed enormously since he moved to Sydney as a teenager from Robertson, in the Southern Highlands. Early on, he thought he would go back home after he finished playing, but now he is in Sydney for good. He did not win the premiership he craved, but he became a star and played for NSW and Australia.
''I barely knew anyone when I came up here and it took me a while to get used to it, just getting around the place. Back home it was one main road from 'Robbo' to Moss Vale to Bowral, you don't get lost …
''As time goes on you start a family, and going back home's not as exciting as it used to be. You realise you've made a new home. Robertson will always be my home town, but Sydney's where I'm going to live.''
Hindmarsh is conscious of how popular he is not only with Eels fans but league fans in general. The Eels have had a poor season and can't avoid the wooden spoon, but he would love to give them some joy at the end by winning on Sunday. His message to supporters on the way out is simple.
''Just thank you very much, it's been great,'' he said. ''Unfortunately, we didn't get the premiership you're after, but thank you for turning up and supporting us and cheering us on.''