When I think about Mark Geyer there are a few words that immediately come to mind; tough, controversial, passionate, Penrith Panther. The former Kangaroo representative and proud Penrith league legend has had his fair share of turmoil, but these days he is a man all about family, his club, giving back to the game that afforded him so much and to the community that stuck by him through it all.
No stranger to a scandal, whether it be a stint on the sideline or roughing up Queensland great Wally Lewis in one of the most iconic moments in State of Origin history, you could certainly never say the life and career of Mark Geyer (or MG as he is affectionally known) has been boring. His time playing the game of rugby league was incredibly colourful. Suspended, sidelined, a cancelled contract, a positive drug test and sin binned in a Grand Final, his playing career has had it all, and then some. All of that aside, there was no doubt he was also one hell of a player. Talent to burn and an on-field toughness to match it with the best of them, he was no slouch when it came to standing tall on the field. He was an Australian international, a New South Wales State of Origin representative second-rower, and he won a premiership with his beloved Panthers in 1991. On field, he had a physical presence that you simply could not teach, and he earnt a reputation for being a hard-hitting, dominant forward who showed no mercy to his opposition.
Geyer’s post rugby league career has been equally as fascinating, he is in his own right a media personality. He has written numerous articles for newspapers and different sporting magazines, he has been a panellist on The Sunday Roast, was part of the incredibly successful Triple M Breakfast Radio show, The Grill Team and also the Dead Set Legends. You can currently catch him each weeknight on Triple M on The Rush Hour with MG. It is a media career that does not look like slowing down any time soon.
I had the pleasure of meeting MG the other week at The Sportsmen Lunch, at the Jamison Hotel, in his stomping ground of Penrith. The afternoon was a charity event for The Kids with Cancer Foundation. MG, along with the talented Rob Shehadie and beautifully emceed by Anthony Maroon, helped to raise thousands of dollars for the foundation. An incredibly heartbreaking story from a father about his beautiful and brave little girl Celia, was enough to have the 110 strong room reaching deep into their pockets for this wonderful organisation, in what was a beautiful show of community spirit.
The sponsors of the afternoon also deserve a special mention, Mounties Club, Pinnacle Taxation, Wildmans Cranes and KHP Civil, without them the event would not have been the tremendous success that it was.
Throughout the afternoon as I listened to MG address the audience, I saw punters in the room hanging off his every word. They were proud Penrith locals who had come to see their footy hero. He did not talk with any airs or graces and he did not sensor himself. He spoke with passion and he told his story from the heart, I was quickly learning what his appeal was. He was open and honest about his childhood, his playing career, and his personal struggles. Painfully honest at times, I realised, that was all part of his charm.
He walked about the room that afternoon, stopping to chat to people he knew and he made a point of shaking hands with those he didn’t. Genuinely and sincerely he won the room over with his warmth, his candour and his authenticity.
Like most people, I had only ever watched MG from a far, as a fan of the game. I have listened to him on radio, read his articles and watched him on the television. He has an opinion on everything to do with the game he loves (as he is entitled to do), and while people may not always agree with him, it is his ‘man of the people’ quality that the public very quickly respond and relate to. I found myself wanting to hear more of his story – whatever MG was selling, I was buying that afternoon.
It is not hard to see how he has been able to forge such a successful career for himself after league. His constituents in Western Sydney are his staunch followers and he is very generous with the time he gives back to his community, whether that be with his charity work or the energy that he puts into grass roots rugby league.
As I listened to MG talk, I was really impressed by the kid who grew up in Whalen, who has established a respectable life for himself and his family. By his own account things could have turned out very differently – but he is tough, and he has a quality about him that feels uncompromising. He touched briefly on his dark days and the demons of his past, he was forthright in owning his mistakes, and is the first person to tell you he made plenty of them, but it is that raw and honest quality that people whole heartedly relate to. He does not shy away from the past that has led him to where he is today, certainly without it, there would be a very different story to tell.
MG has been involved with many different charity organisations and events, and in recognition of his work with charities all over the country, on Australia Day 2013, he was announced in the Honours List and received an Order of Australia medal for “service to the sport of Rugby League football, and to the community through a range of charitable organisations.”
In a time when the NRL is under the microscope for player behaviour (or lack of), I am encouraged by ex-players like MG, Brad Filter and Adrian Vowles (to name just a few), who have actively involved themselves with their communities, for charity events and grass roots football competitions. These are not one-off events either, these players and so many more, both retired and current are working hard in their communities, bringing smiles, raising money for charities and supporting the growth of rugby league, trying hard to keep engaged a legion of fans who are struggling with the current state of the game they love.
To put it in perspective, less than 1% of the people who play in the NRL are in the court system at the moment, and while I agree that is 1% too many, it is these headlines that flood our news feed. Events like the Sportsmen Lunch are not talked about at all, they do not rate a mention from the media despite the fact that The Kids with Cancer Foundation survives on the generosity of regular people, people who choose to help, people like Mark Geyer.
They say ‘good news doesn’t make headlines’, but I don’t believe that for one second, because I sat in a room of full people just the other week, who for no other reason other than out of the goodness of their hearts, gave their hard-earned money to a charity to help those less fortunate, and I have chosen to write an article about it, hopefully one that will make an impact. As a rugby league community, we can decide what types of NRL stories flood our news feed, and we can start with this one.
If you would like to know more about The Kids with Cancer Foundation click here.
Donations to The Kids with Cancer Foundation are passed on to struggling families of kids with cancer to help them in this time of need. Their ongoing support of helping families pay medical bills, buying groceries, living and accommodation near hospitals for families who need it most. They are celebrating 20 years of supporting kids and their families and have raised $24.5 million dollars.