FIVE years ago, Matt Thompson's main concern at Maitland was helping them avoid relegation in their first year in the NNSW NPL.
The ex-Jets captain and Socceroo carried the load as their marquee man. Come Sunday, the 37-year-old will savour playing any part in their first top-division grand final, against Edgeworth.
"The first year, we were fighting relegation pretty much the whole year," said Thompson, whose last grand final was Newcastle's 1-0 win over Central Coast in 2008. "Every Monday we were sitting there figuring out how many points we needed. Five years down the track, to win the premiership and be in the grand final, the club's moved in a great direction."
Injuries have restricted Thompson this year but he has still been a matchwinner, scoring twice in a 3-2 victory over Valentine and off the bench last week against Magic to get Maitland through. The loss of Mat Swan (away) makes Thompson an obvious choice to start on Sunday but he was ready for any role.
"I'll be playing a part, whether it's starting or playing the last 10 or 20 minutes, the whole 15 just need to prepare for a big game," he said.
"The end result is you want to win, that's obviously the priority, but unfortunately from a personal end, I haven't played as many games as I'd like to.
"The first four years I never really missed many games, but this year has been up and down.
"But it's going to be an interesting game on the weekend and I'll obviously play a part in that and that's the best thing I can hope for."
Added depth, with the recruitment of Nick Cowburn, Joel Wood and Tom Davies, has been the key to Maitland's success this season and enabled them to use Thompson, Alex Read and Sean Pratt as weapons off the bench.
"The club has obviously had a great year and to win the premiership, that's no fluke," Thompson said.
"From round one to 22, the 15 we've had has been quite strong and that's probably been the difference from the year before and years before that.
"I think we went into our last game last year with three under 20s on the bench, so it's a big difference this year to have that depth and having players available, and playing good football as well.
"The guys who have come off the bench have a made a difference."
While Thompson is the most accomplished player in the Magpies line-up, the man himself believed Ryan Clarke had been their most influential this campaign.
"I think the main difference has been Clarkey. I think he's had a massive year," he said.
"He's been with us pretty much from the start and I think he's been a huge bonus for us this year. He's an attacking player, he's exciting to watch, he's setting up goals and scoring them.
"To me, he's been one of our standouts. Woodsy is scoring goals left, right and centre, but that's what you expect from the nine, and he's always done that at other clubs, so no one was surprised.
"But Clarkey has really been the one who's stood up and made a big difference. When he plays well, we play well."