Shane Edwards has come a long way since being the skinny kid playing footy in the Adelaide suburb of Golden Grove. A premiership in 2017 and All-Australian selection in 2018 are highlights in a career spanning more than 200 games for Richmond. He takes AFLPlayers.com.au back to where it began ahead of his first game captaining the Richmond Football Club this weekend.
Shane, you’re widely considered to be one of the most underrated players in the AFL. You seem to keep a pretty low profile off the field. How does it sit with you?
I suppose being underrated is something that I can’t really control. I don’t really feel like I’m underrated inside the four walls of the footy club and that’s what matters most. I’d rather be underrated than overrated, I guess, if I had to pick one of the two. That doesn’t really affect me at all. I don’t really go out looking to do media or I don’t really plan to have a low profile or anything like that. We have some pretty big names at our club so the spotlight is probably focused more on those guys than it is on me.
You grew up in Golden Grove in South Australia. Was football something that was always on your radar?
Definitely. All my friends at school played football. My dad, my uncle, my grandfather, they all played football at SANFL level – my brother, he did as well. Football was all around me. It’s something I did, really, because it was fun and something to do at recess and lunch. Later down the track, you sort of realise that it could take you somewhere. It was always my number one hobby growing up.
How old were you when you realised you could pursue it professionally?
Probably a year before I got drafted – when I was sixteen or seventeen – that was when I realised that I wasn’t really too far away (in terms of ability) from some of the guys who were getting drafted and going to clubs. My whole goal, or my focus, was to try and play seniors at North Adelaide and to try to win games there with all of my mates. I feel like that was a pretty good focus for me to have because it kept me grounded and kept me focused on playing the upcoming match rather than on anything to do with getting drafted or the future.
Can you tell me a bit about how that panned out? Were you open to a move to Victoria?
I never really gave it much thought because, being in Year 12, you’ve got a lot of things going on. A lot of my closest mates were playing with North Adelaide – we were playing together. We were all in the Under-18s state side (for South Australia) but getting drafted was never (on our radar). In hindsight, I probably should have had my mind on the fact that I would have to move to Victoria if I got drafted. I suppose before the draft camp I wasn’t a certainty to get drafted, but I performed pretty well there which boosted my stocks a little bit. It was something (getting drafted) that I thought would be a bonus, but it wasn’t something I thought was going to happen – which left me pretty unprepared in the early days when I moved to Melbourne. I’d rarely ventured out of Golden Grove (prior to moving), and I had been pretty short-sighted with the whole thing, which helped me with my football but not much else.
Well, you’ve played over 200 games now and earned All-Australian selection last year for the first time. What did that honour mean to you?
It’ll probably sound a bit stupid but I haven’t really had too much time to think about it, to be honest. It caught me well off guard, just being in the All-Australian squad. When you see all the names that are in it, you’re just kind of shocked that you’ve even been mentioned with them – with the guys from your own club let alone the AFL. It was very humbling and a bit surreal in amongst playing finals and that sort of stuff. I suppose it’s something that I’ll look back on once my career has finished, and I won’t really be able to believe it. I know every now and then mum and dad will mention it and it almost seems like it didn’t happen, it’s just so far from what I think of myself as a footballer. In amongst having played finals and the heartbreak of losing the prelim and going straight into holidays, then all of a sudden you’re back into preseason. There’s honestly not that much time to sit back and relax and think about how good that was. I guess it’s something I’ll look forward to doing once I retire.
There was a bit of external talk around your selection in that team. Did it faze you at all?
Not really. I assume that everyone has an opinion on the team, and the fact that I was surprised myself (by my own inclusion), I have no doubt it would surprise a lot of other people. Every year there are selections where twenty other blokes could have fit into the side. I was very lucky with how the panel viewed my year, but there’s nothing that I can really do about it. It’s something I’ll cherish but I really haven’t listened to much external noise. I feel like there are a lot of guys at Richmond who should have been in before me, but, you know, I’ll take it if it comes my way.
It’s two years this year since the 2017 premiership. Can you take us back to grand final day and what it was like? Do you think you understood at the time how much that victory meant to Tigers supporters?
I definitely do now. It’s a while back, but having lost the prelim last year, and the fact that Tigers were still thanking us for the year before, probably shows how grateful they were. That fact that we did it – and I suppose it kind of came out of nowhere for a lot of people – I knew it would mean a lot. At the time, we were just so focused on the process, and while you’re blocking out a lot of the external noise you’re probably also blocking out a lot of the good external noise – like the fans being so grateful and things like that. I’m glad we got the result; there were a lot of Tigers fans out there that haven’t seen any success in their lives, so we were really glad those fans could see it.
You talked about Richmond getting eliminated in the preliminary final last season. Do you feel the weight of pressure this year to return to the highs of 2017?
I suppose not as much as last year but that’s just because we know how long a season can go for. Last year we had a good season but other teams caught up to us by the end of the year. It doesn’t really matter where you start, it matters where you finish. That’s something we learnt from last year. You can be bullet proof all season but if you’re not right and ready to go on any given night, it doesn’t matter. We haven’t had a great start this year but we know given last year’s circumstances that it’s a long year and we can learn a lot from other teams. We can really nail our game plan towards the part of the season that matters and that’s going to be really important for us.
The Tigers have lost a few important players early to injury. How will you cover their loss?
It’s going to be tough given how good they are, the players we’ve lost. But, that’s just what happens in football. Injuries happen all the time. We’ve actually been really lucky with the lack of injuries we’ve had over the last handful of years. The guys that come in, it’s about not doing anything special, just playing your role. If we all lift, three or four percent, that can cover for players that we’ve lost, the quality that are out. It’s not about guys trying to win the game off their own boot because they think we need something special. It’s about guys playing their role to the best of their abilities and we’ll get through it as a team, rather than individuals.
Racial vilification remains a big issue in the AFL, and recently some of the clubs have taken a strong stand. Do you think that the industry is doing enough to stamp it out?
I feel like the AFL has improved a lot of the processes that happen with racial vilification, however, I think it can keep getting better so we can stamp it out even more. It’s good to know that players aren’t afraid of stepping forward and putting themselves out there when it actually does happen, rather than just holding it in, like it may have happened in the past.
You’re involved as a mentor at the Indigenous learning centre at Punt Road. How much enjoyment do you get out of that?
I’ve been working with the Korin Gamadji Institute for a handful of years. It’s on the third level of our football club, so it’s really convenient for the Indigenous Richmond players to go up and lend support to all of the programs that happen up there. We’re very lucky that our football club is situated where it is, with the Institute upstairs, that we can engage directly with Indigenous culture and it’s really good for the young guys on our list to know that there’s a place that they can get in touch with their culture and be around other Indigenous people. I think that’s something really special and something that the Richmond Football Club does differently to other clubs in the AFL. I lend my support and do what I can whenever I’m upstairs – there are so many different programs going on so there is always something to do.
Is that – a mentoring or community role – a space you can see yourself working in post-football or are you looking to do something else?
I guess something like that may pop up, but a real passion of mine is recruiting. I’ve been doing that for two years now – going to NAB League games with our recruiting team and learning the trade there. Hopefully one day, post-football, I’ll have done enough while playing to get a job in recruiting – that’s my dream. But, at the same time, I don’t want my football career to end anytime soon.
That’s all from me, thanks very much for your time and good luck for the rest of the year.
Thanks Katie, no worries.