PROP Jed Gillespie will salute retirement with a final sledge, a polished head for TV and a third premiership if his finale goes to plan for his beloved Eastwood.
Win or lose, this is it for the colourful 28-year-old forward after more than 100 first grade games across nearly a decade at the coalface at scrum time.
You won’t miss Gillespie in team photos, with his clean-shaven pate and lush lumberjack’s beard, and nor did he miss Easts’ fans last weekend.
When the Beasties’ supporters threw some playful niggle at him early in the preliminary final, Gillespie shot back: “You’re the guys who paid money to watch me.”
“The Easts’ crowd seemed like particular fans and I’ve never minded being heckled...if I can heckle back,’ Gillespie said.
He had the last laugh in an excellent 29-20 win that has catapulted the Woods into Sunday’s cut-throat Shute Shield semi-final against Norths at Pittwater Rugby Park.
“I’m an old man with his body breaking down but I’m excited for what’s coming up because a final two weekends of rugby is the plan,” Gillespie said with a grin.
“I’m sure some of the boys have a haircut before a TV game...I make sure my head’s well shaved and shining.”
Gillespie has been sharp-tongued almost since he started in first grade in 2011 and won the first of his two premierships in 2014 beside No.8 Pat Sio.
“If I cop a bit of sledging, it’s often about being bald but that’s fine because I take solace in the fact a lot of those guys will suffer the same fate,” Gillespie said.
“As targets, I suppose I’ve picked a few blokes who’ve had professional contracts and are back in the club ranks.
“You know, ’It’s over, you’ve been there, you’re back here and you’ll be digging holes next’.
“You do it to get under someone’s skin, all except (former Sydney University premiership-winner) Tom Carter, who everyone knew not to sledge back in the day because he was that rare type who got better with it.”
Gillespie works as an-house solicitor with Ultra Management Sports so getting the detail right on third-party agreements for NRL players like James Tamou, Anthony Milford and Adam Doueihi is his day job.
At 121kg, Gillespie is a rock up front for Eastwood but long-time Shute Shield followers will have noticed his role has changed from the scampering style of his youth.
“I probably started out far too loose and, through no fault of anyone, I’ve become slower, tougher and tighter doing more of the basics,” Gillespie assessed.
Just as his game has evolved, he is delighted to be part of Eastwood transforming around young guns like five-eighth Tane Edmed and Mark Nawaqanitawase.
“It is exciting what this team can do over the next few weeks when you have a very good footballer at No.10 like Tane who managed the game really well in the wind and rain last weekend,” Gillespie said.
“Covid forced the Under-20 World Championships to be cancelled which meant Tane has been with us learning, through ups and downs, for a whole season rather than just four games or so.
“I really think young blokes learn a lot from a full season of club footy.”
Gillespie’s peripheral taste of Super Rugby was “holding tackling bags and handing out water bottles” in the 2015 Melbourne Rebels squad.
Two brief seasons playing in the US for the San Diego-based OMBAC club in 2016-17 and 2017-18 was as much fun as he hoped.
He was a self-confessed “squatter” at the northern beaches apartment of Eastwood coach Ben Batger after both those adventures.
“Ben was a big part of that 2015 premiership as a player and he’s a big part of the development of this current team as an extremely good coach,” Gillespie said.
“He’s detailed, he manages players well and he’s recruited smartly because he saw that Ratu Tuisese could have a big impact as a flanker for us rather than as the winger he was when he arrived from the Penrith Panthers this year.”
Batger is looking forward to Eastwood going up another gear against Norths and knows his team must to win.
“Norths pass it more than any other team and have ball-players through the backline so we know what’s coming just as they know we back more of a power game,” Batger said.
The Shoreman are waiting on a final call on whether NSW Waratahs finisher Cam Clark can play any part after several weeks on the sideline for a head knock.
SHUTE SHIELD SEMI-FINALS
SATURDAY at Pittwater Rugby Park
Gordon v Easts, 1.30pm
SUNDAY at Pittwater Rugby Park
Eastwood v Norths, 3pm
(LIVE TV on 7Plus and 7Two)
This article was originally published on RUGBY.com.au.