MOST people would quite happily swap Glen Innes for the south of France this week but Sam Key is not one of them.
Not yet anyway.
After missing the past two grand finals, the Magpie five-eighth is looking forward to a shot at premiership glory with his home club on Sunday.
Key spends the Australian off-season in France where he plays for Limoux in the national competition but throughout his time there he has always come back to Glen to play for the Magpies once the French season is over.
In the past two years he has had to fly back to Limoux in time for the new season there and has missed the Group 19 grand final so he is keen to play against Guyra at Mead Park before jetting off again.
“I’ve been here in the lead-up over the past couple of years but missed them both,” Key said.
“My last year in France wasn’t a very good one so I appreciate the chance.
“We’ve been lucky that we’ve been successful over the last five years and it’s worked out well.
“This year the grand final is a week earlier but I’ve got to be back for our first game on the 23rd.
“I’ve got a big week coming up.
“There’s grand final, mad Monday, footy trip, footy ball and then back to play on the 23rd.”
The former Manly lower grader can play anywhere from centre to five-eighth to the second row or lock, but has been wearing the six jersey this season.
“I’ve always played five-eighth for the Maggies and at Manly I was taught to play five-eighth before other things came along and I played centre and lock and hooker and everywhere,” he said.
“But I’m more comfortable in the six.”
Key has a good side around him and that gives him great optimism heading into the decider.
He has helped round up a few Mullumbimby players like Jeff Moate and Jay Hampson, who have added depth to an already strong local squad.
“We’re lucky we’ve had this connection with Mullumbimby and some mates I met in Sydney,” Key said.
“Glen Innes has become a second home for those blokes.
“We’ve also got a lot of local blokes.
“I’m a local born-and-bred and my brother (Jake) will be back this week.
“We’ll go out and try to win one together.”
Key is not the only French visitor in the Glen side either.
Another Mullumbimby journeyman, Adam Shaw, has also joined the Magpies from another French club, Lescure, but has played for the Magpies before.
“I met him in Sydney and we became friends and then he came over to France,” Key said.
“He’s a player who won’t let us down.
“He’s big and fast and strong and smart.
“He’s the ultimate professional and it’s good to have players like him in Group 19.
“It’s just a shame the Group is run the way it is because there are some clubs and players who like to play footy.”
Key and Shaw are just a couple of reasons why Glen is now favoured to win on Sunday.
They aren’t taking Guyra lightly but Key said this flock of Magpies are determined to win the title before they are scattered around the world.
“When we came back this year we looked at it as getting a job done,” Key said.
“It will be our last chance to win a grand final together as a group.
“We’ve got a good side and plenty of well-credentialled players.
“I’d like to think we’ll win it comfortably but, in saying that, Guyra are the toughest blokes in the world.
“There’s no surprises.
“They’re just hard mountain men.
“I dread playing them but at the same time I like playing against sides like that because you know you’re going to get a hard, fair contest.”
The reason the group probably won’t get another chance is that Key won’t be able to come home in the future.
At 26 he is looking to secure a professional contract for the years ahead and playing virtually two full seasons a year, every year, is asking a bit much.
“I think we worked out a while ago I’ve played 183 games without a break,” Key said.
“When I told my coach in France that, he rested me, which broke my run.
“I’ve been fortunate that I’ve gone so many years back to back but it does take a toll.”
Whether Key’s future is in France or somewhere else is something he has to sort out in the next 12 months but he is open to just about any possibility.
“I’ll have one more year there and see what other opportunities there are,” he said.
“America is looking like a possibility at the moment.
“They’re trying to get a TV deal over there and if they do they’ll be looking to make some marquee signings and they’ll be offering some good money, so I’d be happy to grab a chance like that.”
The French game is also expanding and allowing more Australians to play there and there are also opportunities in England.
But all of that is for the future.
There’s a grand final on home soil to win first and the local junior says he hopes to see a big, well-behaved crowd at Mead Park and hopefully a Magpie win.