A CHANCE meeting with a salesman in his home town of Merriwa was the catalyst for Phil Amidy moving to Group Three club Taree Old Bar in 1972.
Amidy had just returned from trialling with Parramatta.
"I got talking to this bloke who knew Geoff Walker, who was on the Old Bar committee,'' Amidy recalled.
"He said Old Bar was looking for a halfback/five-eighth. So I rang Geoff and that's how it started.''
Amidy had just turned 18. In fact, he only missed playing under 18s by 12 days. Old Bar, or to give the club the correct name, Taree Old Bar, made the 1971 grand final but were thrashed by town rivals, Taree United. The clubs met in the opening game of the 1972 season and United had much the same roster as 71.
But Amidy made a spectacular debut, regularly ripping through the United defensive line in a powerhouse performance as Old Bar gained some revenge on the previous year's drubbing.
In the seasons to follow, playing with Old Bar and Wauchope, Amidy was in the upper echelon of players in Group Three. On Friday night with former team-mate John 'Tucker' Adamson, Taree United's Brian Eakin and Ken 'Snow' Clarke from Smithtown, Amidy will be inducted into the Group Three Hall of Fame at a function at Wingham Services Club.
Amidy's early season form in 1972 was good enough to earn him Group Three selection. The Lifesavers bowed out early in the semi-finals that season. But the following year under captain-coach Bob Carnegie Old Bar made the grand final, again facing off against United. Amidy is still frustrated at the result, an 8-3 win to the Greens.
"We were depleted - 'Tuck' (Adamson and Normie (Taylor) were both out injured,'' he said.
"But we were only down by the five points and late in the game I made a break. I came to their fullback 'Bugs' (John) Fatherley and propped. Then Brian Eakin grabbed me from behind and that was the end of me, I was injured and had to go off.''
He was replaced by older brother, Max, who joined the club earlier that year.
This was also an era when the Lifesavers enjoyed life off the field as much as they did playing. Amidy agreed they were great times and he was reputedly as strong performer off the park.
However, the Lifesavers missed the semis in 74 and Amidy decided it was time for a change.
"I'd met my wife, Julie and she was a Wauchope girl. I thought Wauchope was the most professionally run club in the group with Warren Kimberley in charge,'' he said.
"I was only going to have one more season in the group, so I decided to give it a go up there.''
It paid dividends for Amidy and the Blues. He represented Group Three and North Coast and was a member of the North Coast side that beat the touring New Zealand side - a win he regards as one of the best of his career.
However three weeks from the semi-finals Amidy injured the cruciate in his knee.
"Cortizone injections got me through,'' he said.
With John Wittenberg making a late-season comeback after playing in the Hastings League the Blues emerged as the side to beat for premiership honours. They were first into the grand final where they met the defending champions, United.
Amidy's second half performance, despite the injured knee, proved pivotal in Wauchope's 18-8 win. He scored a typical try where he punched through tackles close to the line to seal the result. He rates this as the highlight of his time in Group Three.
"Winning a premiership, that's what you play for,'' he said.
And beating United made it that much sweeter.
Amidy went to Newcastle to join Central Charlestown in 1976. He gained Country selection in 1977 and was a regular member of the Newcastle representative sides, including the team that beat the visiting French side in 1978.
Amidy returned to Group Three and Wauchope in 1979 for much the same reason he journeyed there in 1975 - he thought he needed a change. He was named Group Three player of the year, captained Group Three to the group's first win in the North Coast championship against Groups Two, One and 18 and led North Coast in the Country Championship and later against Great Britain.
"The Poms towelled us up at Tweed Heads,'' he said.
This was his only loss to touring international sides after earlier wins against New Zealand and France with North Coast and Newcastle. Wauchope bowed out in the final when beaten by the Port Macquarie side in the final. This was Amidy's last game in Group Three.
He recalls in those days clubs here were able to import captain-coaches with Sydney and international experience and this helped lift and maintain a strong standard.
"Bodey (Ron Boden) was at United, Doug Ricketson at Forster-Tuncurry, Barry Bryant (Gloucester), Bob Carnegie (Old Bar), Wittenberg....they were great for the comp,'' he said.
Of the players he teamed up against, Amidy rates United's Kevin Hardy as 'the top of the list.' Amidy and Hardy had many torrid duels, particularly in the days of the 'Taree Tests' when Old Bar played United.
"Tucker and Normie were great at Old Bar and Carnegie was a top captain-coach. Garry McQuillan and Paul Maher at Forster, Mark Hogan at United, Wauchope's Jot Taylor were great players,'' he said.
Post 1979 Amidy continued to carve out a successful career in Newcastle with Central and then Maitland. He was a member of Maitland's premiership winning side in 1983. He had no sleep the night before the 1983 grand final as his son, Mitchell, was born. However, Amidy agreed he was relatively accustomed to a lack of sleep before matches from his early Old Bar days and later at Newcastle, when he had shift work.
Amidy coached at Singleton for two seasons before giving the game away. For a while at least.
"From 1985 I couldn't go to a match because I'd want to play,'' Amidy explained.
However, he moved to Kendall from Newcastle in 1994 and started as association with the Kendall Blues in the Hastings League, initially as a water boy before taking on a coaching role and 'playing when I was needed.'
He was 48.
"In 2003/04 Mick Ryan, the former (Canterbury) Bulldog came to town and took the coaching job. I ran the water and played a few games. We won two comps,'' Amidy said.
He finally called fulltime on his storied career at the grand old age of 51.