FORTY-ONE years ago when Mick Sloan got his first taste of Australian Rules as a West Canberra Magpies junior, he had no idea the sport would become one of his real life passions.
It is a passion that this year led to him being presented with a prestigious merit award for Outstanding Service To Australian Football by the AFL.
To be eligible a nominee must have contributed significantly to the sport in a number of roles for more than a decade and even then, each state and territory has just two winners each season.
Sloan was shocked when presented with his award during the AFL Central West's annual presentation night.
"It's really special. There's two awards presented in the state every year, so to win one of those knowing the amount of work that goes on in clubs and associations across the state is really humbling," he said.
"I'm really honoured to win it, you don't expect that sort of recognition, it's really nice but the work that I've done is just because I love the game. It's something I've always loved since I was a seven-year-old playing in Canberra."
While growing up in a family who's sporting passion was hockey, when a friend of Sloan's father decided to form a junior rules team he signed up. He became a West Canberra Magpie in 1978.
From there Sloan's involvement in the sport has seen him been a player, a coach, a premiership winner, a club official, an umpire and a life member.
It was in 1993 when Sloan moved to Bathurst, joining AFL Central West outfit the Bathurst Eagles. He spent one season in the ruck and had time in the forward line, but in the main played at centre half back.
He enjoyed a remarkable run of success as both a player, a coach and a playing coach. He was a five-time premiership winner, but nominated season 1997 as the pick.
"It's great to coach and help out, but there's nothing like playing the game. We just had some really good, capable, talented footballers but most of all, it was a such a great club," he said.
"We were all a pretty young group, most of us were in our 20s, and the club was really tight. We played for each other, supported each other and had a lot of success, so yeah, they were really fun times.
"The '97 grand final, we won by under a kick over at Orange. That was an amazing game, we weren't expected to win that game, it came right down to the wire, it was really wet and cold.
"One of the Orange guys had a shot from about 30 out that would have won the game, but it didn't come through, so we ended up holding on for a really memorable victory.
"In 97 I won the best and fairest, was granted life membership and also we won the premiership, so that was a really special year."
Sloan also served as president of the Eagles before the club merged with CSU to become the Bathurst Bushrangers.
For the Bushrangers Sloan was a junior coach and Auskick co-ordinator, while he has also served as the president and committee member of the AFLCW.
He has guided the Northern Heat representative development squad, while currently in terms of AFLCW clubs Sloan is involved with the Bathurst Giants.
This year as an assistant coach of the Bathurst Giants women, Sloan was involved with his first premiership success since the 1997 win with the Eagles.
His involvement with females also extends to a school level, his accomplishments including guiding this season's Denison College team to second place in the Western Sydney regional final of the Giants Cup.
"Working with boys is fantastic as well, but the girls ... because most of the girls don't have that long term knowledge of the game, they are really keen to learn and improve and develop," Sloan said.
"That's really rewarding for a coach when they are so receptive. The game of AFL is a really good game for competitive people - male or female - and that's what we are seeing with the Giants and Denison.
"We are seeing girls who have that will to win, they put all the plans into practice, so that has been a lot of fun ... it has been really fun to see how the game is growing, especially in the female space."
Continuing to build the ranks of female participants is something Sloan sees as important to the growth and future of the AFLCW.
But he feels the most critical factor is fostering junior talents - players like those in the under 14 Giants team he guided this year.
"In 1993 when I first came to the area, we had no juniors back then, there was no structured junior competition and a women's competition was not even thought of as a possibility," he said.
"There were two grades and the standard actually was good pretty good. There were some very handy players in the competition, but a lot of players were people who had moved here from outside the area.
"Now what we are seeing is the sustainability, Bushrangers and Giants have both done a lot of work in developing their juniors, their local players and developing their women's teams.
"Cowra were fantastic 10 years ago, through that period of time they had a lot of their local talent who they were able to develop and bring through. Orange have done a lot of work with juniors as well.
"That model of investing in your juniors, working really hard - particularly like we've seen from Orange, the Giants and the Bushrangers - developing juniors, that is the future of the game. The standard of juniors is improving and there are some really good kids that are coming out of this area."
Another area Sloan feels needs work is umpire recruitment. Amongst his impressive resume is three seasons spent as a whistle blower.
"It is something the league really needs to address if they want to continue the game to grow," he said.
"They need to attract people with the ability to umpire because the umpire controls the game and a good umpire will make a huge difference."