When Tony Byrnes arrived at Saint Ignatius' College Riverview in Sydney, he knew nothing about rugby.
Six years later he emerged with a passion for the game that hasn't waned more than six decades on, and recently saw him honoured with life membership of the Central North Rugby Union.
The 17th person to be inducted as a life member, it follows an almost 60-year association with the zone as, firstly a player, and later administrator.
"Life membership recognises service, leadership, active participation, innovation and contribution; Tony Byrnes personifies these attributes", the screed presented at the zone AGM started.
He is the second-longest serving president, after Barraba's Reg Kelly, after holding the position from 2014 (2015 season) through to the end of the 2020 season.
Prior to that he coached Pirates and served on the committee for a number of years. Still on the board, he was for his years of service made a life member of the club in 1992.
He was also in that year awarded the Prime Services to Rugby Award in recognition of his contribution to the zone.
More recently when they were struggling to fill the junior vice-president position for the 2023 season, he stepped into the role.
"I was really proud of it," Byrnes said of the honour, adding jokingly that he "hasn't got time to do it all again".
It all might never have been, however, had he not been sent away to Riverview.
As was the way in those days everyone had to play a sport.
"I picked rugby, but I didn't really know what it was," Byrnes reflected.
"I went down to training and the coaches were there selecting the sides.
"And I was standing around the place like a stale bottle of beer, as they say, and they shoved me into the hooker position."
Not big by any means and having no idea "what the hell I was doing" he was fortunate that a former Wallaby, who was there to do some work with the First XV, happened to walk past where he and his team were training.
"He gave me some tips and hints that I never forgot, and really gave me a good handle of what it's all about," he said.
By the time he graduated he'd worked his way through the grades and up to the First XV and was "well and truly entrenched into playing rugby".
Upon returning to the region he joined Barraba for their inaugural season in 1965.
Hailing from Manilla, he then played a couple of seasons with them before rejoining Barraba.
Retiring following their grand final loss in 1976, his association with Pirates began after he moved to Tamworth for work.
Planning to go over to London for a golden oldies tournament, Byrnes initially started training with them ahead of the 1985 season to get fit for that.
Thirty-nine at the time, he would go on to play every minute of every game that year as they won their first-ever premiership, and over the next 10 years pull on the black and gold more than 130 times, including once alongside son Tim, which was a pretty special experience.
For a few of those years he was also either coaching or serving on the committee, sometimes both.
Taking over from Peter Burke as zone president in 2014, Byrne's six years in the seat spanned some significant changes, and interesting times, for the game.
One of the biggest changes was the introduction of the women's competition, which has just brought another dimension to it, on and off the field.
On the flip side, one of the lingering disappointments is the planned joint competition between Central North and New England not going ahead.
Rejected countless times before, it seemed like it was finally going to happen for the 2018 season but at the 11th hour it all fell apart. In a further twist Tamworth flew the coop and affiliated with New England.
It's something Byrnes still believes in.
"I'm of the firm belief that we've got to focus on the bigger picture, and if we want rugby to survive with any deal of recognition in our zone, we've got to keep thinking and working on new ways of doing things," he said.
His last year in charge was a memorable one, if not for great reasons, with the competition not going ahead for the first time since the war years due to COVID.
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