A bush footy ornament. An absolute competitor. Some go as far as to say Mick Sullivan is the Group 10 GOAT – the greatest of all time.
Nine years as Orange CYMS captain-coach, seven grand finals, five premierships, four minor premierships and a Group 10 player of the year award in 2010, it’s hard to argue against that GOAT status when no other coach in the history of the competition comes close to those sort of numbers.
Sullivan, though, well he simply smiles and shrugs his shoulders.
Shoulders that will now carry one of the most decorated country rugby league careers anywhere in regional NSW back home to Wingham in 2019.
The departing CYMS legend has played his last game in green and gold but ends his incredible tenure at the helm of a Country Rugby League club now at the top of its game having fulfilled his one goal.
“I just wanted to stay somewhere and be the best I could at something,” Sullivan said.
“CYMS really made me feel at home. I bought in, I loved the club … I didn’t think I’d get into something so much.
“I just tried to lead by my actions. I always tried to win things at training. I’m a pretty competitive sort of guy. I didn’t come out here to go through the motions or tread water. I wanted to make a difference.”
After “chasing his tail” in the NRL during his 20s, Sullivan signed a two-year deal with Orange CYMS at the end of 2009 – he knocked back the chance to stay with the Bulldogs or link with the Brisbane Broncos to head to the bush.
“I actually came up and watched a game before I signed. It was Nick Law, Benny Gosper and Scott Piper that convinced me to sign,” Sullivan remembers.
“They got flogged by St Pat’s at Bathurst but I saw good attitude there.
“The want and the passion was there, they were just lacking a bit of direction. That was the day I signed. I said I’m ready to go and signed a two year contract.”
The rest, as they say, is history.
I didn’t come out here to go through the motions or tread water. I wanted to make a difference.Departing Orange CYMS captain-coach Mick Sullivan.
CYMS went on to win the 2010 Group 10 premiership, a 23-16 decider victory over Mudgee at Wade Park.
The seven-point win was CYMS’ first triumph in a grand final since 1988, a win that sent the club into raptures.
The drought was over and the rain wasn’t going to end for quiet a while.
Further titles were won in 2011, 2013, 2015 and then 2017, the last of which Sullivan says was his sweetest.
The 23-22 victory over Oberon in last year’s Group 10 decider came 12 months after Sullivan had to watch on as his green and golds let slip a title when Mudgee pulled a rabbit out of the hat to snatch a 14-10 victory in atrociously wet conditions in 2016.
Not prepared to let another title slip, with the game in the balance against the Tigers, Sullivan ran backwards to both wind down the clock and ensure all the sacrifices – many of which he’s made year on year – didn’t again amount to nothing.
The 38-year-old has had to forgo a monumental amount of family time to remain at CYMS and the only thing that makes the sacrifice worth while is success on the grand stage.
Family helped fuel the incredibly competitive drive Sullivan boasts and is also the reason he’ll move back to the coast to finish his decorated career with his junior club, Wingham.
“One thing I’ve said to the playing group out there is ‘family, work, footy’ you get that balance right you’ll be successful. The only one who probably didn’t get it right was me,” he said, Sullivan has two young boys and his father lives on the Central Coast. “I’ve given up too much to let things slip.”
For the entire CYMS family, 2018 has been a tough one, and that much was clear talking to Sullivan.
“(The club has had players suffer) five reconstructions, two badly broken legs and two mums passing away … emotionally for me it’s tough. It wears on me. It’s time to go and start fresh,” he said welling up.
As tough as this year has been, Sullivan’s first grade side made the finals but bowed out in straight sets after losses to Hawks and eventual premiers Panthers, his nine-year stint at CYMS has been full of highs.
The 2013 grand final against Hawks one of those. The CYMS-Hawks rivalry is fierce and Sullivan has copped plenty from the two blues fans since joining the club.
But that 22-14 win over Hawks is a day Sullivan looks back on and smiles.
“I’ve never walked on a footy field so confident,” he said looking back at what was a record day for Group 10.
Over 5000 people streamed through the gates at Wade Park, generating a record gate of near $50,000.
“It was a big day for CYMS, too," he added. “It could have been different from that day on had we not won. It would have give them a bit of confidence but I think it knocked them back and hurt them and I didn’t mind contributing to that.”
Another of Sullivan’s great adversaries was Lithgow Workies, a club he says let fester a “genuine hate for me there for a period”. Grand final losses in 2011 and 2015 will do that.
But on the other side of the fence there’s plenty of friends – most of which Sullivan had the honour of pulling the boots on with.
Tim Bassmann, Dom Maley and Scott Piper just a few of the names the five-time title winning coach rattles off with a sense of pride.
He hopes those players look back and see a resilient coach, a competitor and “someone who loved CYMS”.
“It was about putting pictures on this wall and we’ve done that,” he says pointing at the premiership-winning CYMS sides on the wall at Kelly’s Hotel. “Hopefully there’s a few people proud of what we’ve done and what CYMS has achieved.”
THE SULLIVAN FILES
Orange CYMS captain-coach 2010-2018.
PREMIERSHIPS: 5 (2010, 2011, 2013, 2015, 2017).
RUNNERS-UP: 2 (2012, 2016).
MINOR PREMIERSHIPS: 4 (2010, 2015, 2016, 2017).
GROUP 10 PLAYER OF THE YEAR: 1 (2010).
COACHING RECORD: Games: 155; Won; 111; Winning percentage: 71.6.