Sport

Shepparton export calls time on illustrious career

By Aydin Payne

When it comes to Aussie Rules footballers and those luckily enough to have played at the highest level, their careers seem destined and pre-planned for them in a magical and unexplainable way.

Ranging from the child extraordinaire with the world at his feet, to the hapless club legend longing for that elusive premiership.

Then, there is the talented performer, who is continuously cut down by injuries and left with the heartache of what could have been.

It does not matter if it is uplifting or not, there is always that special storyline that is delicately woven into their careers.

For recently-retired former Shepparton footballer and dual AFL premiership winner Shannon Byrnes, you get a glimpse at just how remarkable and astonishing those careers can be.

With seven senior football premierships and a 100 per cent strike rate from more than a dozen grand finals, the former Geelong and Melbourne footballer has lived and breathed one of the most distinguished and successful careers.

Even though Byrnes' 131-game AFL career - which spanned 11 seasons - ended more than five years ago, the 35-year-old's playing days only recently came to a close.

And it was only fitting that the 2007 and 2009 AFL premiership player finished with every footballers' dream hanging around his neck.

His seventh senior premiership came last month in Deer Park's unbelievable seventh straight flag in the Western Region Football League.

Despite the dominance in the league, the Lions entered the 2019 decider against Altona as underdogs, having lost three times to the Vikings during the season.

What happened next, as they say, is history.

Staring down a 19-point margin at three-quarter time and kicking against the wind, Deer Park held the Vikings to one behind for the term and won by three points.

Byrnes recalled the emotions after the siren and compared where that win stacked up in his career.

“It was a really special feeling and, it doesn't matter level of football you play, premierships are always special,” he said.

“But those 10 to 15 minutes after the match, I have never been more satisfied after a grand final win.

“We were the underdogs leading in, we had lost to them three times, we trailed all day, down to 18 blokes and kicking into the wind.

“It was such a crazy game and it's something I will look back on with great memories.”

After joining Deer Park in 2016 to be with his mates Marc Bullen and Jason Kennedy, Byrnes has been a member of the past four premierships and played 55 games for the Lions.

But the father of one, soon to be two, highlighted his reasoning for calling time on his illustrious playing career.

“I just haven't got time to play anymore, life's getting pretty busy for me,” he said.

“My wife (Megan) and I are expecting another child soon, which is really exciting.

“But I've always said that I wanted to go out knowing I had something in the tank.

“And the way this year ended, it just felt right to call time now.”

Byrnes' retirement has come during what is a busy period of his working life.

He is employed at his former club Melbourne as a player development and welfare manager, looking after incoming and departing players.

Which has meant Byrnes would be strapped for time during the AFL trade period and national draft.

But no matter how busy he is going to end up, Byrnes would not have it any other way.

His involvement with the Dees was evident of just how important and how big a role football has played on his life.

“We help get players prepared for life after footy, hopefully when their career finishes, they can be better prepared,” he said.

“And the draft is very busy for me, dealing with all the youngsters and their families.

“You can't help but see yourself in the kids coming through, especially the boys from the country.”

Byrnes said his own experiences entering and exiting the AFL system helped him when dealing with players.

He was taken with Geelong's final pick in the 2002 rookie draft from the Murray Bushrangers and was later elevated to the senior list in his second season at the club.

His AFL debut came in round 16 in 2004 against Sydney at Skilled Stadium (now GMHBA), where he kicked his first goal late in the game from 50 m out to give his side the lead.

The Cats went on to win that match - another moment forever etched into the storyline of Byrnes' career.

Much like the drought-breaking premiership for Geelong in 2007 against Port Adelaide or the 2009 grand final win that was delivered by the famous 'toe-poke' from Matthew Scarlett.

Unfortunately, the talented left-footer missed out on the 2008 grand final loss and was named emergency in the 2011 premiership against Collingwood.

But missing out on the 2008 grand final loss to Hawthorn has helped maintain his perfect record in grand finals.

Following those glory days at the Cattery, Byrnes left as an unrestricted free agent in 2012 and joined Melbourne as the club's first selection under the free agency rules.

“I've been very lucky in my career. I've had the chance to play with some superstars at both AFL and local level,” Byrnes said.

“Whether it be the Abletts, Stevie J and Matty Scarlett or even just playing with Shepparton heroes like (Stephen) Ash and (Anthony) Mellington - it's been special.

“I haven't been able to really reflect just yet.”

Asked if whether he would change anything from his career, Byrnes revealed that it would be to run out in his old maroon and gold jumper.

“If anything, I would've loved to have played more senior football at Shepparton,” he said.

“I only played one senior game at the Bears, it was against Rochester at Deakin (Reserve), so it would have been nice to add to that tally.

“But I still like to see how they are going, there are a few old mates like Nick (Allan) and my brother-in-law Rowan (Hiscock) still running around.”

Ever since he was writing the first chapters of his story as a youngster getting a kick for Wanganui High, Congupna or the Bears, destiny had planned out one hell of a ride.

“My goal growing up was to try and play one game of AFL football,” Byrnes said.

“It's always good to remind yourself of the kid who used to kick the ball around in the backyard by himself growing up.

“If I ever got the chance to go back and tell him the journey he is going to have, I don't think he would ever believe me.”