Ryan Burton was named as the Round 2 Rising Star nominee following his 26 touches in the loss to the Crows. Former Adelaide forward Ken McGregor coached Burton during his tenure at North Adelaide in the SANFL and shared his thoughts, exclusively to Aflplayers.com.au.
While coaching the North Adelaide Football Club in the lead up to the 2014 SANFL season, there was a lot of hype around a player from the junior ranks.
Occasionally you hear of an especially talented player coming through and a young Ryan Burton was front of mind when speaking to the junior coaches.
I remember seeing him play in our reserve side during the trials and you could see there was something special about the way he moved and read the ball — you could tell he was athletically gifted and was going to be an exciting player.
Witnessing him in that first game gave me an insight into his talent but when I met him for the first time, I could see that he had a level head on his shoulders and was a potential leader for any football club in the future.
Basically, there was no doubt in my mind that we were looking at a future AFL player. How composed he was around others and the way he always wanted to improve himself complemented his abilities.
His athleticism for someone of his size and his agility are pretty unique talents but his skills are also elite. If I look back, I remember Ryan as being someone who was well above average in everything — he didn’t have any real weaknesses in his game.
In 2014, the year before he was drafted, his early pre-season form was good in the trials and there was a real temptation to throw him into league footy for Round 1 but we gave him an extra couple of weeks for grounding rather than throwing him in the deep end.
Throughout Rounds 1 and 2 he was providing too much for the reserves side and we were forced to put him up into the league.
I remember he played his first SANFL game against West Adelaide and in his second game he played in the Grand Final rematch against Norwood and announced himself by taking an absolute hanger on the wing.
He was good that night and was a real benefit when he played the handful of games for us that season.
Ryan’s father Craig played for North Adelaide back in the day and has had a bit to do with the Adelaide Football Club as well in the fitness department.
He was the Crows’ runner for quite a few years when I was at Adelaide and I knew him well, so it was a touching thing to be part of the emotion of Ryan playing his first game at North Adelaide and even more satisfying to see him get drafted.
Obviously, one of the more defining moments for Ryan was sustaining that horrific leg injury while playing for his school side towards the back end of 2014.
I remember it was a pretty tough time for him. I suppose as a coach you’re privy to the doctors’ thoughts on how bad the injury was and I wasn’t sure if he had received the same information we did, but the outlook we got was that he couldn’t have damaged the leg much more.
We had fears that this could’ve been the end of Ryan Burton before he began.
The prognosis we received was it would be highly unlikely that he was going to be able to play high-level competitive footy again.
At the time, he was going through Year 12 and in the prime of his life. He was a definite draft selection in a year’s time, so the situation put a big question mark over that.
So we had fears as a coaching group that he wasn’t going to be able to recover from such a horrific injury.
It’s sad to see such a positive player and person go through something like that, but in the end it was probably lucky someone like Ryan and his family went through it because there would’ve been a lot of young players like him who wouldn’t have recovered from such a significant leg break.
Ryan’s someone who would’ve done everything in terms of rehab and preparation to get to this point and I’m not surprised at all that he managed to get as far as he has.
I only spent a short amount of time with Ryan, so it’s a credit to his family and his junior coaches for creating such a positive environment for him to prosper and they deserve the accolades for the player and the man he has become.
In short, Ryan was one of the better players I’ve come across as a coach. He was as coachable as they come and would do whatever he could to complete the task you’d given him. On top of that, he was one of the guys who was always questioning how he can become a better player, so he was almost self-coaching himself in a way.
With all the talent he has and the determination and commitment to overcome such an injury as a teenager, it’s no surprise he’s making an impact at the elite level.
Rising Star nominees for 2017:
Round 1 — Sam Powell-Pepper (Port Adelaide)
Round 2 — Ryan Burton (Hawthorn)