Four-time premiership player Shaun Burgoyne this week becomes the 73rd footballer to rack up 300 AFL games, and in doing so joins an exclusive club of five Indigenous players to reach the milestone.
Each one of the five is a premiership player who earned All-Australian selection: Gavin Wanganeen, Andrew McLeod, Mick O’Loughlin, Adam Goodes and now Burgoyne.
“I looked up to those guys as a kid coming through and I wanted to be those players,” Burgoyne said on Fox Footy this week. “It’s a bit embarrassing to be sitting alongside those guys, because you look at their achievements in their life – you know Brownlow Medals and Norm Smiths, so it feels a bit daunting to be sitting alongside those guys.”
AFL Players tracked down two members of the club – a former teammate and a former rival – and spoke to them about the man known as “Silk”.
“I was there when Shauny first started his AFL career at Port Adelaide. He was very young; a bit of a raw fresh-faced kid like many others. Being Peter Burgoyne’s brother there was a bit of expectation straight away and it didn’t take him too long to make his mark.
“Of course we played in the 2004 premiership together. He kicked an important goal just before three quarter time. The other quite vivid memory of have of Shauny that day is of him and Jason Akermanis bioth doing their best not to get involved in the Alastair Lynch-Darryl Wakelin punch-up of all time. They were only about a metre away, ducking and avoiding the haymakers, but they made sure they dragged each other away and from the looks on their faces you could see they didn’t want a bar of the action.
“Seeing Shaun and Peter arm in arm getting a photo with the premiershp cup after the siren was another special memory from that match. Brothers playing in the same AFL premiership team – it doesn’t happen all that often.
“It soon became pretty apparent to me that Shaun was just a lovely, lovely guy. You had respect for him because he shows respect for everyone he comes across. He’s a very respectful person and he gets that back in return. He’s a proud indigenous person and family man.
“We get along well, even though he’s been in Melbourne for quite a few years now, chopping it up for the Hawks. Mind you we haven’t seen much of him since he’s left South Australia! Just the odd text message here and there – actually I sent him a text the other day saying congratulations and you should be really proud of what you’ve achieved.
“It’s amazing, there were a few things floating around about how bad his knee was when he crossed over to Hawthorn, but his relationship with (fitness coach) Andrew Russell has helped him save his best for the footy track and not chew that knee up any more with too much training. So that tells you that his professionalism and rehab is second to none as well.
“He’s ended up being a pivotal player in three Hawthorn premierships, too. Not bad on a bung knee. I’d hate to see him on a good knee.
“And now he’s become the fifth Indigenous footballer to rack up 300 games. Looking at the other names, it’s not a bad club. And he definitely belongs in it. He might say ‘you can’t sit with me unless you’ve got four premierships’. I think his four flags is a record among Indigenous players.
“He’s a great role model for Indigenous people and football has been a platform for him to have a profile that he uses to encourage Aboriginal people to strive for their goals, and if they want those goals hard enough they can achieve them by putting in the hard work like Shaun has over many years. I’ve got no doubt he’ll continue to be a leader and an ambassador after he stops playing, too.
“He’s also definitely the sort of footballer who could go into coaching if that’s what he wanted to do. He’s got the knowledge and the smarts, it would be just a question of whether he wanted the grey hairs that come with such a high-pressure job.”
“When he was playing over here for Port Adelaide I found him to be just a really nice guy. I knew his brother Peter pretty well, and Shaun was the fairly quiet and reserved one. He came across as a bit of a deep thinker.
“As a player he’s always been someone who reads the play so well and doesn’t waste any disposals. His role probably changed a bit over his five or six years at the Hawks. He’s become more that defensive general who sets up lots of play. He’s one of those players who doesn’t need a lot of the footy to hurt you, either.
“One thing that stands out to me is that he’s always performed either on the big stage or when someone has needed to stand up. That’s when you know that a Shaun Burgoyne moment is about to happen. That’s a testament to the way he goes about his footy, and also what he means to that Hawthorn side.
“I liken him to one of those hotted-up 1932 Fords – he’s got the gears, the grunt and the polish. He still looks the goods and you can rely on him to produce.
“He was a very good footballer with Port Adelaide, and I think since he’s crossed to Hawthorn he’s gone to another level.
“It’s great that he’s got to 300 games. If you look at what the five Indigenous guys who have got to that mark have all been able to achieve, it’s not a bad group. We all played a lot of footy against each other and that helps inspire the next wave. I know when I was playing I’d look at footballers like Gav Wanganeen, Michael Long, Nicky Winmar and “Maj” (Michael “Magic” McLean) and it certainly pushed you along. So Shauny helps set a wonderful standard for that next generation of blokes who are coming through. Something they can aspire to.
“From a young age he’s showed a level head and leadership qualities and now, as a senior player, if you look across the league he’d be the guy the Indigenous players would look to as a real leader, and a calming influence as well.”