Jamie Mackay runs The Country...on the radio.

Jamie Mackay's From the Lip: Sleeping with sporting royalty

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Jamie Mackay's treasured bubblegum cards signed by his hero Sir Colin Meads.
Jamie Mackay's treasured bubblegum cards signed by his hero Sir Colin Meads.

The past week has been dominated by two good news stories for farming. It goes without saying the Global Dairy Trade auction result was an absolute boost for dairy farmer morale and it would appear that 80% of sheep farmers think the confirmation of the Silver Fern Farms merger with Shanghai Maling is worth a punt, an opportunity not a threat.

Recent times have also seen the confirmation of the bad news that New Zealand's most loved former farmer and most famous footy player, Sir Colin Meads, is battling pancreatic cancer. The inner sanctum of the rugby fraternity has known for some time that the mighty Pinetree has, to use his own wonderfully understated words, "been a bit crook".

I want to take you back to July 31, 2015. For reasons best known only to Dick Tayler, I was gifted the opportunity to pay a small tribute to the most iconic living New Zealander at the Sir Colin Meads Tribute Dinner in Mount Maunganui.

To say that I was out of my league is an understatement.

Other speakers included his great mate Tayler, former All Blacks Sir Brian Lochore and Andrew Mehrtens plus broadcasting legends Keith Quinn and Peter Williams.

One of the two stories I chose to share during my fleeting ten minutes of fame involved Colin and his raconteur sidekick Dick. I retold this story on my radio show a couple of months ago on the occasion of Sir Colin's 80th birthday and received such a warm response that I'm going to share a condensed version with you.

Several years ago Colin and Dick were joint guest speakers at a school fundraiser in Invercargill. I was privileged to be asked to be the MC. The 700-strong Friday night crowd was treated to some great yarns and late into the evening, when only the stragglers remained, it was no surprise to find Colin holding court at the bar.

It had turned into Saturday, when the bar finally closed. We were about to go back to our motel nearby when a young rep from CRT (these days Farmlands) declared to Colin that his life would be complete if the great man accompanied him to a leading Invercargill bar.

The greatest rugby player of the 20th century duly obliged and was mobbed by youngsters, 50 years his junior, wanting their photo taken with Pinetree Meads. Dick and I followed in tow. Suffice to say I was not mobbed, but worse, no one recognized the 1974 Commonwealth Games 10,000m champion, who sported considerably less hair than the hirsute athlete in the black singlet who had set the Games alight.

It was 2am when that bar closed and I was more than happy to hit the hay. However when we got back to our motel, our promised single rooms ended up being a two bed unit with a roll-out third bed, which I immediately claimed because I knew the pecking order without asking.

The organizers of the fundraiser had been caught short on the accommodation front because Invercargill was full to the gunnels with the hordes attending the Burt Munro motorcycle rally. However they more than made amends by filling our fridge with Speight's. Colin declared we'd have a nightcap. I was tired but not brave enough to tell my boyhood hero that I wanted to go to bed.

We sat around the small kitchen table. One beer turned to two, then to three. Colin and Dick told stories. I listened. I had nothing to offer the conversation. I kept pinching myself under the table. I was in the company of sporting royalty.

It was 4-30am when, in a scene reminiscent of Forrest Gump declaring his run across United States to be at an end, Colin abruptly called to halt to proceedings. He was ready for bed. In his case it was the double bed in a separate room because Dick, too, knew the pecking order. Like the young man from CRT earlier in the evening, my life was now complete. I was sleeping with sporting royalty!

Pinetree Meads fought many a torrid battle with the likes of Frik du Preez and Willie John McBride on the paddock, only to share a friendly beer afterwards. He now faces his most torrid battle against a foe that does not do friendly. God speed Sir Colin. THE COUNTRY loves you.

Footnote: Pictured are two of my bubblegum cards collected in Riversdale in the late 1960s. Colin added his signature nearly half a century later in Mount Maunganui. Underneath them sits an autograph from 1968 that my parents brought home from a function in Gore for their rugby-mad eight year old son.

- The Country

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Jamie Mackay runs The Country...on the radio.

Jamie Mackay runs The Country. Well actually his close personal friend John Key does that but Jamie's apolitical so we won't mention it. Mackay is a rural legend in broadcasting with over 20 years' experience. Jamie enjoys the finer things in life such as a crisp glass of Central Otago Pinot Gris, a leisurely Friday afternoon game of golf, and mercilessly teasing Dom George about everything from his appearance to his social standing.

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