Shane O’Sullivan has spent close to 40 years working in football. He’s spent close to 30 of those 40 years working in various behind-the-scenes and football department roles at Carlton.
It’s safe to say, he has seen and done it all in the game.
He’s seen many hundreds of players and staff come and go through the doors at Princes Park. But in his words, none have been as special as Eddie Betts.
Betts, 34, will this week retire after 17 years, 350 games, and many hundreds of moments that have brought footy fans around the country nothing but pure joy.
Sitting third all-time for the most games played by an Indigenous player behind Adam Goodes and Shaun Burgoyne and only two players ahead of him on the overall games list has kicked more goals than Betts.
Any way you stack it up, it’s a 17-year journey that we as Football fans and consumers of the game have been lucky to witness and bear some part in watching it unfold.
None closer than his immediate family have been closer to Eddie’s journey than the man he refers to as “Poppa Shaneo”.
He recalls watching this young Indigenous boy playing for the Calder Cannons and being blown away by his immense talent and a player to watch.
“I remember the Calder Cannons were playing in a grand final at the G, and he kicked this amazing goal and my son rang me on the phone and said, ‘Dad, did you see that? What about Eddie Betts? How good’s he?’ and so I suppose that’s the start of just keeping an eye on him,” O’Sullivan told The Inner Sanctum.
71 players were selected in the 2004 National Draft. Eddie Betts wasn’t one of those names read out on draft day.
But the Blues were still interested in the livewire forward, inviting him down to train and fight for a spot on the list ahead of the Pre-Season Draft.
“When he didn’t get drafted, Peter Mulkearns, he was our fitness guy at the time, he’d encouraged Eddie to come and do a pre-season with us,” O’Sullivan said.
“When he walked in, he was, to be honest, just a little bit overweight and all that but just the way he went about things, he was very infectious, the way he was going and carrying himself, so he certainly had something about him right from the start.”
Carlton had the third pick in the Pre-Season Draft. The list needed a ruckman and the decision was between Trent Knobel and Betts.
Richmond had the first pick who selected Knobel to head to Tigerland, his third AFL club. Collingwood with pick 2 selected Blake Caracella which landed Betts to Princes Park with pick 3.
Betts has recounted on numerous occasions that when he arrived at Carlton he could seldom read or write. But he could smile, entertain and play football.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about Betts’ 349-game, 638-goal career to date is that he has always been true and honest to himself.
Always doing things within his vast array of capabilities on the field and being honest with himself and standing up for what he believes in. Even if he stepped out of line once or twice.
“The great thing about Eddie, and I spoke to all the players yesterday, I don’t think I’ve ever known anyone so truthful. He was honest and if he mucked up and you said ‘Eddie, did you do this and that?’, he said ‘Yep that was me’,” O’Sullivan said.
“He’s just grown and grown and grown as an individual. I think the confidence once he met Anna and that as well just gave him a lot more confidence, that he had someone else beside him.”
O’Sullivan has always been a father figure in Betts’ life. It’s a title he wears with a badge of honour.
With at one stage, Betts toying with giving up the game entirely, a call to Shaneo would prove the intervention that he needed.
A shoulder to cry on and someone who could be there for him at a time where Eddie was at his most vulnerable.
“Basically he was in a bit of an ordinary place at the time with footy and off-field and things like that but when we spoke on the phone, he was in the car on the way to Sydney. I just encouraged him to come back to the office and we could talk about this,” he said.
“So once he did, we just went through some of the issues and both of us had a bit of a cry, anything to do with that gets me going.
“I’m the biggest sook of all time when he’s around, but just encouraged that the footy club’s behind him, he’s just started and he’s got this great future, what he’s already been doing just shows what he can do and what’s ahead of him.
“To me, it was what you do for any footballer that’s got the talent that he has, you just wanted to see them fulfil their ability and I know it can get monotonous, I have one son but I feel like I’ve always felt he’s the other son that I didn’t have because he’s just so easy to be around.
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Betts was sure to thank O’Sullivan when he announced his retirement to the playing group and staff. He spoke about their relationship and how much of a role he has played in his life.
“He was a father figure for me,” Betts told the media on Tuesday.
“Moving across to Melbourne, just with my mother, my auntie, and my cousins, getting drafted to Carlton, having Shaneo being there to help support me the whole way through my journey has been unbelievable.
“I thank him for that, and the ongoing support he’s shown me.
“Even when I moved to Adelaide for six years, he still supported me and rang me nearly once a fortnight to see how I was going.
“He’s been an amazing support for myself and my family”
Still working at the club as the Manager of Spirit of Carlton and the Past Players Association, O’Sullivan says he will miss that smiling face coming into work every day and his infectious nature around the club and out on the footy field.
Grateful for all the time they have spent together to build a bond that transcends football.
“I was lucky enough last year to go up to the last hub, be with his family and just be around to give him a bit of a chop out because Anna was pregnant and it was good fun getting to know the kids a little bit better as well. It was good fun” O’Sullivan said.
His associations with Eddie and the Betts family ranks highly on the list of accomplishments of his time serving the game and Carlton.
“He’s probably, from where he was at the start to how his life and footy has turned, in the top two or three things I have been lucky enough to be involved in [in my time in football]” he said.
“My wife thinks I’ve lived off Stephen Kernahan all my life, getting him to the club, but Eddie is, just to be a part of him coming to the club and seeing how his footy and his family life, the respect he has from everyone in the footy community and just in life in general when you see things like that, it just makes you feel really proud that you may have played jut a little part of it so he’s certainly up there with the special people that I’ve been lucky enough to be involved with.”
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