Tough nut cracks double ton





To an outsider walking along the pitted concrete verandah and wandering into the ramshackle old club rooms at Charles Riley Reserve, all they see is a dilapidated building.

Rusty grates on the windows, pillars that appear to be well beyond their best.

Inside it’s worse. 

Scored walls, mismatched paint tones from past busy bees where the do-it-yourselfers didn’t quite match the existing colour. An unspectacular wooden bar rail that has propped up many a foot about 30cm off the floor and clenched fists, wrapped around a coldie, perched on the varnished beam at perfect resting height.

The most elaborate decoration in the room, flat screen televisions aside, are a couple of wine barrels, randomly juxtaposed on the well-worn vinyl floor.

For years, during his rare breaks from comedic stories on a Thursday night, MC Mini McLaurin gets deep. And just like his yarns, which somehow remain funny after their 50th recital, so too are his words around the people at North Beach defining the club.

On Saturday two of those people – hard-nosed defender Reece Cunningham and clever forward Josh McGinnity – will verify their contributions to the club when they each play their 200th games.

The people, as well as the tattered facility, are the reason that Cunningham is back at the club this season. Frustrated by a couple of knee injuries last year, he failed to see the season out, but knowing that this would be the last at Charles Riley, as we know it, he committed to have one more year.


“The main motivator was to play again before the clubrooms were lost,” Cunningham said this week. “It’s a run-down old building, but it holds so many great memories. The Thursday nights, the grand final celebrations.

“This (200 games) has been a long time coming, it’s my 12th year at the club, but it wasn’t the reason I came back this year. I just wanted to come down and play with Pratty.

“When I got down there, the vibe was pretty good so I committed to play.”

Like so many talented North Beach players, Cunningham enjoyed great success during the incomparable Bill Duckworth reign and played in five senior premierships.

He was a key factor in some of those triumphs, too. His capacity to hold Wembley’s midfield ace Andrew Piccoli in the 2007 Grand Final or, a year later, to lock down on North Fremantle key forward Karl Pirrotina, were pivotal in the premiership successes.

“In 2005 I was travelling when the boys won, sitting in cold old London town when my parents were sending me photos,” he said. “I was on a working holiday with Andrew McGuire and had a four-year working visa but decided to come home early.

“I wanted to be part of that and it’s hard to describe what it felt like to go through that run of success. When we got to four or five in a row we wondered how long it could keep going.

“The Mad Sundays and Mondays were great highlights, mainly with my partner in crime Kyle Riemann.

“The milestone will be special. Not too many have played 200 – Scotty Holbrook, Luke Smith, Matt Fong, Chris Perkin, Chook Ingham and Benny Heap – so it will be good to join them. And to do it on the same day as Josh McGinnity, I couldn’t think of a better bloke to achieve it with.”

Cunningham has played this season with the A-Reserves and his experience in a young side is vital. A tough competitor with the attributes around which winning teams are built, he will again play a key role in club aspirations as the season progresses.

He features prominently on the wall of fame – an amazing collecting of premiership team photos – which stretch from wall to wall, no doubt covering up an imperfection or two in the brickwork.