When Shepparton’s Sunday clash with Echuca begins, two of the club’s greatest champions will share a most prestigious milestone — at least for a week.
Nick Allan will take to the Goulburn Valley League field for the 309th time, equalling the mark of fellow Bears great Stephen Ash.
Allan, a five-time club best and fairest — fittingly an award named the Stephen Ash Medal — has shown no signs of slowing down and will likely break the record with game number 310 slated for Euroa next weekend.
But, for this week at least, there could not be two players more appropriate to share the club’s mark.
A teenage Allan began his tenure with Shepparton’s seniors learning from teammates Jason Wells and Matt Byers, as well as the legendary Ash.
‘‘We connected pretty well from when I first came here, but when I came here it was head down, bum up,’’ Allan said.
‘‘It was about winning the respect that way rather than being the loud one at training. I did what I had to do and tried to earn respect from the players.
‘‘But I didn’t even know who the guy (Ash) was when I came here.’’
Learning from the best
Allan would quickly learn exactly who Ash was — two Morrison Medals, three premierships and six best-and-fairests are somewhat hard to miss.
But it was not just through his sheer class on the field, but a physical presence at training that sharpened his approach to football.
‘‘I was very lucky that when I came through into seniors, to play midfield from three games on, in there with Ashy and Byso (Byers),’’ Allan said.
‘‘I was pretty lucky, although I copped my fair share at training, don’t worry about that. I always copped the one-on-one drills with those guys, I’d get bashed and pinched and punched and everything.
‘‘Some people would say I drew the short straw, but I was the lucky one in the end. It’s helped me as a player mental strength-wise and in terms of knowing how to train.’’
While the duo would only play regular senior football together between 2003 and 2005, their relationship and admiration for each other quickly grew, to the point where Ash requested Allan wear his No.3 jumper after retiring.
Neither believe a club’s games record is why one plays football week after week, but Allan said the milestone meant so much more being one Ash owned — the same way Ash could not have been more thrilled to pass the record on to someone he held in such high esteem.
‘‘He comes from a great family and is a great family man himself with his kids always down at the club,’’ Ash said.
‘‘The Shepparton Football Club has been so lucky to have guys like Nick, Rhys O’Sullivan, Rowan Hiscock, with the way they’ve led the young blokes. They stuck through the hard times and they got their just rewards last year.
‘‘I’m rapt that it’s him, and to still be around to see it is great.’’
‘‘I’m nowhere near his category, but I was just lucky enough to learn off him and lucky enough to wear his number now,’’ Allan said.
‘‘Eventually I got to know him and he’s a ripping fella, a gun footy player, too, the best player I’ve ever played with.
‘‘He’s a good family man, too, I’ve got a good relationship with him, we don’t see each other all the time, but when we do it’s always good.’’
Allan referenced luck as one key to his longevity, but if ever there was a player that had grasped his destiny in his own hands and left nothing to chance, it is him, with professionalism and dedication to the craft driving standards within the proud football club.
Ash said Allan’s long career of sustained excellence had seemed likely from the moment he first walked through the Deakin Reserve gates.
‘‘As soon as he got here we knew we had a really good player; he just did all the right things, he was professional, and that’s why when I retired I wanted him to have my number,’’ he said.
‘‘Since then, it’s turned out the way I thought it would really; he’s been really loyal to the club, a great player, as professional a player as I’ve seen in the Goulburn Valley.’’
And while the duo would not experience the ultimate together, Ash’s son Lachie would get the opportunity to team with Allan in last season’s GVL premiership, a breakthrough flag that iced the cake that is Allan’s extraordinary career.
Loving their home
Along with talent, longevity and dedication, Ash and Allan also share a love of the Shepparton Football Club.
While football’s cyclical nature ensures regular ups and downs, Allan said the family-first and caring nature of the club had fuelled that passion.
‘‘I was a young dad, I was a 21-year-old Dad and I’d come down to training, I’d have blokes looking after my kids while I trained,’’ he said.
‘‘You’d come back in from training and they’d have had tea and that, I was very lucky in that sense. I just love being down here.
‘‘We’ve had some shitty times where these blokes have retired and the new mob is coming through and you’ve got to try and weave the retired player’s magic through us to the new guys.’’
Ash pointed to the people running the club as crucial to fostering a first-class atmosphere.
‘‘There’s never been any dickheads,’’ he said.
‘‘The people that have run the club, from when I’ve started, guys like Ian McDonald, Kev Hallahan, the respect they demanded and got, I think it’s filtered right through.
‘‘The job that Brad (Campbell) did to get them back to where they were, and even off-field with Will Phillips and these sort of blokes, and the Ladies Committee is legendary, when I first came here it probably saved the club — Val Dominelli and Jan Enders and Ivy Cartey.’’
‘‘They used to send me birthday cards, that’s how good they were, they just knew your birthday and everything, unbelievable people,’’ Allan added of the famed Ladies Committee.
More to come
On breaking a record that will have him in the highest standing possible for years to come, Allan paid tribute to his close family members — his wife, parents and children — for helping him across the years, on and off the field.
But while games 309 and 310 will draw plenty of fanfare, Allan is not limping to the finishing post, but striding through the mark at close to full speed, potentially with plenty of football left to come.
‘‘I still feel good and I’ll be honest with myself, I’m not someone who will just tick around in the back pocket,’’ he said.
‘‘You know your craft and if I’m no good at it any more I’ll walk away. You get a lot of feedback from opposition players who have been around a while, they’ll say I’m still running around well, so that’s nice to hear.’’