It was a crisp wintery afternoon in 2011, there was a buzz around Evans Bay Park as half of Wainuiomata descended on the eastern suburbs to see favourite son and All Black Piri Weepu turn out for his club side. When reminded of this, Isaac O'Connor doesn't recall the World Cup winner taking the field, all he remembers was buzzing to make his Premier debut for Marist St Pats.
Fast forward six years and Isaac is preparing to face Wainui again this weekend, but this time he will run out for his 100th Premier game for the Red Machine. No longer the fresh faced youngster out of Wellington College, he now plays the role of veteran in an exciting young forward pack.
Isaac's early Premier memories date back further than his debut, he fondly remembers attending the 1999 Jubilee Cup Final at Athletic Park and watching the side beat Poneke to claim the coveted silverware. He remembers thinking how great it would be to play at that level for the club so feels a great honour to now bring up his 100th game.
In the 99 games he has played to date, Isaac has won every major piece of silverware a Premier club can play for in Wellington including a Jubilee Cup in 2012 and Swindale Shield in 2014. He was named Marist St Pats' Sportsman of the Year in 2015, the same year he made his debut for the Wellington Lions.
Despite all his personal achievements, when asked about his favourite memories Isaac rates playing alongside his mates as the best. 'In the early days playing alongside Charlie 'Blue' Graham was good, we had a real good ginger camaraderie going down. He left the lads for greener pastures but James Zino has replaced him as my ginger plus one.'
The distinctive red hair and his passionate playing style has made Isaac somewhat of a cult figure around the club rugby scene. When playing for Wairarapa Bush a team mate coined the nickname 'Red Mist' which resonated with his mates and has now stuck. A Facebook page has now appeared in the form of a 'Red Mist Appreciation Society', Isaac enjoys the banter and jokes that 'I need to do my bit and do something good at rugby now, for them.'
His tenacity on the field and good banter off it has earned him a lot of respect in the local club scene. Around the grounds of Wellington it is not uncommon to hear remarks from supporters that indicate they feel he has deserved more playing time for the Lions.
While continuing his quest to crack a full time professional contract he is working towards his second degree, majoring in Information Systems, while also teaching kids CPR for St John's.
On the eve of this significant milestone Isaac wishes to thank all the coaches, noting that while they may not always have seen eye-to-eye, they've all helped him along the way. He also gives a shout out to the physios for keeping him on the field!
The Evans Bay faithful no doubt returns that gratitude to the 'Red Mist' for his years of service will look forward to seeing him become the 40th player to reach 100 games for Marist St Pats on Saturday!