When faced with trying to write a fitting tribute for Shaun Burgoyne’s 350th game, where does one begin?
How many times have you seen him play a pivotal role deep in defence and then, in the blink of transition, watched him do something equally as devastating in attack? He is the game changer in the midfield. Deceptively effortless and languid in nature, the cat-like slink of his running makes it appear as though he is floating above the ground. He never looks that quick on his feet, but his burst speed is comparable to any. His ability to cover the ground like this, almost without being noticed, is matched by his expertise at stepping out of traffic. Whilst others suffocate in the helter skelter nature of the game, Burgoyne exudes a timeless nature and is rarely entrapped. He has an outrageous awareness and a pristine elegance which well justifies his moniker, “Silk”.
This nickname is both apt and ironic as many get distracted by the captivating beauty of his playing style yet don’t fully appreciate the substance he provides to the team. Burgoyne is a bastion of skill execution. In an age where kicking skills are somewhat diminished, he is amongst the best. In general play, whether kicking left or right, short or long, none come close to his astuteness. Whilst others get the yips when faced with the big sticks, with Burgoyne you already know without watching what will happen. Bang. Goal!
The bigger the moment in a match, the more his pulse seems to slow. His profound contribution to a team’s success cannot be overstated, with his acts in the biggest games often the difference between success and failure. During Alastair Clarkson’s successful dynasty as Hawthorn’s coach, Shaun Burgoyne stands out.
They say a picture can speak a thousand words and there is one image of Burgoyne that, for me, perfectly encapsulates his importance to the Hawthorn football club. It was during the dying stages of the epic 2013 preliminary final against Geelong. Burgoyne triumphantly raised up his arms in celebration after kicking the goal that put Hawthorn in front, and, in doing so, caused many to declare the media hyped ‘Kennett Curse’ dead. Geelong’s 11 game winning streak over the Hawks came to an end that day and, alongside it, some profound demons were buried. Hawthorn had come up short at the crunch time of some of the biggest games in the recent past, including their 2011 preliminary final loss to Collingwood and their loss to Sydney in the 2012 grand final. These losses highlighted their failure to execute in the key moments. The lack of the group’s mental fibre when it mattered most was a justifiable criticism. During the Geelong game, however, Burgoyne’s calmness in the cauldron sealed the result. He carried the group on his back and, in doing so, guaranteed the club’s success that followed. Any lingering doubts which may have existed within the group were quashed and replaced with belief.
Prior to his career at Hawthorn, Burgoyne was similarly pivotal at his previous club, Port Adelaide. When you consider his profound impact at both of these powerhouses, it makes you wonder where he should rate in the game. Despite being a part of so much team success, having only been selected once as an All Australian (in 2006) it seems that perhaps he will have to wait until his retirement from the game to gain the full respect and recognition that he deserves as an individual.
If he retired today, Burgoyne would have a very good chance of being inducted into the Hall of Fame for the AFL, Port Adelaide or Hawthorn. In fact, I’d be surprised if he wasn’t chosen for all three. He would surely be included in the list of Port Adelaide’s greatest 22 players of all time and in 2025 when Hawthorn commemorates one century in the VFL/AFL and announces its best team of that period, I am sure that Burgoyne’s name will be up there amongst the likes of Luke Hodge and Sam Mitchell. Yes, even before such players as Lance ‘Buddy’ Franklin, Josh Gibson, Grant Birchall, Cyril Rioli and other star players from the Clarkson era of the club.
Amongst his indigenous peers, Stephen Michael, Graham Farmer, Barry Cable and Andrew McLeod are universally considered the best. Burgoyne would be in the reckoning to join this list as one of the top 5 indigenous players we’ve ever seen. This is a very bold claim when you consider others in the mix, including Lance Franklin, Peter Matera, Adam Goodes, Maurice Rioli, Gavin Wanganeen, Michael Long, Cyril Rioli, The Krakouer brothers and many other brilliant players.
The exclamation mark to Burgoyne’s career would be his rating in the AFL era, a period of revolution where traditional positions and structures have been forgone in favour of versatility. The catch-cry dominating this phase in the game is ‘swingman’. It has seen the likes of Chris Grant, Matthew Pavlich, Glenn Jakovich, Paul Roos, Alastair Lynch and the like garner acclaim. This again highlights the irony of the lack of respect paid to Burgoyne. A more evolved swingman, highly capable on any line in both defensive and attacking roles, his definitive nature in this context should see him rated amongst the top 20 players of the AFL era.
If you want the final bow to tie around the delightful Burgoyne package, think of his self effacing charm off the ground. In an age so desperate for positive role models he is the absolute epitome. From every fan of the game we say thank you to Shaun Burgoyne for his 350 games of pure silk.