THIS weekend's AFL Victoria under-16 country titles and TAC Cup under-18s triple-header at the QEO are a fitting finale to Ray Byrne's time as the Bendigo Pioneers regional manager.
As he overlooked Bendigo's famous oval on Thursday afternoon, Byrne reflected on the many highs as a player and later manager.
An on-field career spanning more than 200 games in what was then known as the VFL included four grand finals.
Byrne's play for Golden Square in the early 1970s caught the attention of Carlton Football Club.
He made his VFL debut with the Blues in 1973 and would later play for Collingwood and Geelong.
There were plenty of highs in the big league, but Golden Square's senior premiership victory in '72 is at the top of the list.
The-then 19-year-old was on a half-back flank in the grand final played on Queen Elizabeth Oval.
"A lot of Golden Square legends were in that team," Byrne said of a line-up that included Peter Moroni, Tony Southcombe and Mike Hammond.
"Bill Bonney was a fantastic coach and set the bar in terms of training, behaviour and character."
Another huge influence was Kevin Smith, an Eaglehawk great and former Footscray player.
Since his playing days ended Byrne has played a key role in development of hundreds of players as regional manager at Gippsland Power and then Bendigo Pioneers.
The two TAC Cup clubs closest to his heart - Bendigo and Gippsland - do battle in the Victoria Country under-16s titles match from 11.30am on Friday at the QEO.
The Pioneers under-18s played under the QEO lights on Saturday.
In a 25-year career with the TAC Cup, Byrne has seen many stars.
It's not just watching the Pioneers draftees run around in the big league from which Byrne gains a lot of satisfaction.
"I've always enjoyed watching Simon Rosa running around with Golden Square. He may not have been drafted by an AFL club, but he's had a huge impact as a player and on-field leader.
"In the past 15 years a few of the Michelsen medallists (Bendigo FL best and fairest) have been through the Pioneers system.
"It's a massive commitment for every Pioneers player and their parents," Byrne said.
"As a club and league the goal is to help them become better players.
"Although the Pioneers have not had a lot of wins the past few years the morale among the playing group, coaches and staff is fantastic."
Byrne said there were a lot of inspirational stories in footy.
"A message I would like to get across is to never give up.
"Ben McGlynn kept plugging away, even when there were doubts about whether he was good enough," Byrne said of McGlynn's journey from the Pioneers to Hawthorn and then Sydney.
"Jaden McGrath had injuries in his time with the Pioneers, but he kept at it and made his AFL debut for Brisbane last Saturday."
Byrne has built many lasting friendships through football.
He and AFL national talent manager Kevin Sheehan were team-mates in Bendigo's inter-league campaign in 1972.
"Kevin's been a great mentor for a long time."
A mentor and friend is what Byrne's been for many.