Almanac (Footy) Life: Tribute to Old Dog on his 700th game of footy



As the Old Dog (Matt Zurbo) plays his 700th game of football this weekend, one of his long time teammates Sean Maxwell pays tribute to the great man and his approaching milestone. 



The Old Dog and long time team mate Sean Maxwell



For the last 20+ years, the first thing you’d hear when arriving at the Gellibrand Recreation Reserve was a booming, drawn out “Goooooooooddddd Shhhhoooeeeeee” from Matt Zurbo.


He’d arrived early to help coach the juniors. He’d arrived straight from a day working in the bush with nothing more then a few rice cakes and a handful of almonds in the stomach. And he’d be on the back of every cone barking for more effort and positivity from the boys.


He’d back this up on gameday, too. In his years as a junior coach, he’d always prepare meticulously for his pre-game speech. The flavour was always new, but the substance remained the same. They always revolved around getting the young fellas to believe in themselves as individuals and as a team. One of his lines that come to mind is “Back yourself. Take the game on. And if it doesn’t work out, point to me”.


Yes, we’re constantly reminded of how Zurbo’s passion and ability to connect with young people can lift them out of hard times, and instil in them a sense of confidence that previously had eluded them. But next weekend is a celebration about Matt the senior footballer.


Most blokes breakdown after 20-30 games. Even the most hard-wearing usually chuck it in after they turn 35. How has Zurbo managed to reach 700 games? What is the secret to his longevity?


Is it insisting on having orange juice with his muesli? Or serving his two-minute noodles with lukewarm water from the shower? Is it showering with his dog in the changerooms? This last one is no longer permitted, sadly.


Perhaps it can be put down to his infamous 40-minute post-training blow out. This consists of pairing up with one or two others and constantly leading, marking and kicking the ball to each other. It’s some classic kick-to-kick but with intensity. All new blokes are officially indoctrinated into club by being unwittingly lured into this post-training blow out with Zurbo.


Perhaps we’ll never know his secrets to longevity, but somethings definitely stand out from having Zurbo play the majority of his games with us at the Otway Districts Football Netball Club. On field, these include his contested marking and rucking abilities and gut running. He has also always been the first in to defend his mates or the young blokes in the team.


Off-field, Zurbo is a staunch defender of the battler, has a life-long commitment to bush work, an infectious love for music, and substantial gifts as a writer and storyteller. Only last year did I find out about his alter ego – a lucha libre mask wearing comedian called the Perculator that moonlights as a mascot for the Monaros.


And sure – the Great Man has his short-comings. These include constantly losing his wallet or keys, being absolutely filthy about spending any time on the bench, and having short arms at the bar… But these things don’t define Zurbo.


Matt got married a few years back and now has a young daughter who comes to every training and game with him. Matt’s love for his family is abundant and inspiring. He is deeply invested in helping them lead their best lives. And I think this is what stand out the most after his 700 games – his love for his people and community. That is when Zurbo is at his mighty best – when his people and community need a boost.


Countless times has Zurbo gone above and beyond for us. Be that organising a day out for his U18s in the big smoke, watching a game of footy and meeting some AFL players. Or organising a fund raiser to support families going through hard times or blokes recovering from season ending injuries.


Zurbo is all about the extras. And we are blessed to have him influence our club culture over so many years. It’d be a great testament to Zurbo’s qualities as a person and clubman if folks could travel from far and wide to watch him in his 700th. It might be your last chance for a while – it’ll be another few years until his 800th.


The milestone match occurs at the Irrewillipe Recreation Reserve on Saturday 5 August at midday when Otway Districts play the Western Eagles then followed up by celebrations at the Gellibrand Hotel with The Monaros providing the music. Details below.





Matt Zurbo has written extensively for The Footy Almanac over the years. You will find all of his pieces, and some pieces about him, HERE.



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  1. Colin Ritchie says

    Good luck on Saturday Matt – go well and go hard!

  2. Matt Zurbo says

    Thanks Col. Great to see you at the footy the other day mate.

    I have many faults as a footballer, but going hard is a given!

  3. E.regnans says

    Oh Sean – thanks for sharing this with us.
    I know about that care and about going above and beyond.

    Old Dog – go you good thing.
    Like the thunderous breaks off Johanna Beach.
    Like uncurling fronds in a fern-filled Otways gully.
    Like the rolling gait of a hungry echidna.
    Go you good thing. AMAZING.

  4. Amazing achievement! Well done Matt!

  5. Matt Zurbo says

    Thanks both.

    You’ve done your homework Mr Watson!

  6. scratcher says

    From working in the bush with you and Deano to running around countless ovals in our part of the world with you Ol mate, you’ve always gave it everything you’ve had. Just bloody enjoy the day and night mate. Forever an Otway legend mate, cheers Scratcher

  7. John Harms says


    Hope the pig leather follows you all day.

  8. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says
  9. Luke Reynolds says

    Congratulations on an absolutely incredible milestone Matt!

    And super piece of writing Sean.

    I love the spirit and community feel of the Otway Districts FNC. Your seniors are very well coached, I’ve been super impressed with them in their two narrow wins against my club South Colac.

    All the best in the big game tomorrow, and hope the night at the Gellibrand pub is a ripper!

  10. Mark Duffett says

    All the best for the day and night, Old Dog. I always looked forward to umpiring appointments with Dodges Ferry when you were going around with them, I really enjoyed watching the way you went about it. It’s not quite the same without you.

  11. Alex Tyers says

    Superb!!! Matt you are amazing fell!!!!

  12. Malby Dangles says

    Mighty Mighty Matt! You’re an inspiration mate

  13. Congratulations Matt. You’ve played nearly two hundred games more than GWS and the Gold Coast combined (504). Superb.

  14. Matt Zurbo says

    Thanks all. A ripper day was had. St Francis and Kerry drove down for it, which was very nice. Cielo had a ball running around, as she does every other game, and will in games ahead!

  15. Well done Matt! And what a fabulous interview too. Keep on, keeping on.

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