“A significant honour”, “an unbreakable jumper”, “a career highlight”, “something you remember forever” and “so special”. Those are some of the words used to describe what it means to play Australian Rules Football for Tasmania.
State representative football returned on Saturday when the best men’s and women’s players from across Tasmania took on Queensland at North Hobart Oval.
Tasmania’s men’s side prevailed by seven points in a thrilling game, while the women’s team fell by 19 points to a superior Queensland line-up.
For nearly 150 years representative football has been the only way Tasmanian footballers have been able to unite as one for their state.
The only people who can describe what it means to pull on the ‘Map’ are those who have had the privilege of playing in it.
Robert Shaw is a legend of the game in Tasmania. An accomplished footballer who played for Essendon, Sandy Bay and his state, before transitioning into a head coaching career that included stints at Fitzroy, Adelaide and leading Tasmania.
Sam Siggins, who was best on ground on Saturday, is arguably the best player in the state right now. The former Crow can genuinely play in any position on the ground and is a two-time Alastair Lynch Medal winner (the TSL’s best and fairest).
The Inner Sanctum spoke to both men about what it means to represent Tasmania.
Representing your state: “The highlight”
The honour of playing for Tasmania is a desire instilled into footballers from a young age.
Shaw has watched state football since he was five, the highlight of his young fandom being the 1966 Australian National Football Carnival in Hobart while he was in primary school.
Throughout a successful playing and coaching career in the AFL/VFL and Tasmanian Football League, he said representing his state was “the highlight”.
“Having limited access to VFL the odd 30-minute replay on a Monday night meant our heroes came from our local clubs and subsequently our state teams courtesy of the wonderful triangular series each year,” Shaw said.
“Seeing players from all around the state was brilliant so for a kid in school in the ’60s the aspiration was a state jumper.
“To wear the jumper is a career highlight I’ve had individual success with particular teams but to wear this unique nationally respected and recognised jumper was the highlight.”
It’s a similar feeling for Siggins, who played in his third state game on Saturday after also representing Tasmania at underage level.
“It’s something I hold very very closely and dearly growing up the first time I represented Tasmania and wore the ‘Map’ was at the Under 16 Championships,” Siggins said.
“Having played in two other state games they’re so special and something you remember forever.
“There’s nothing like playing for your state and representing all the people that came before us.”
Pulling on the ‘Map’: “An unbreakable jumper”
The ‘Map’, it’s one of football’s most iconic guernseys that forever links any Tasmanian who puts it on.
Tasmanians have fought in it for nearly 120 years, carrying the same collective spirit and pride when they go into battle against other states.
It’s the symbol young players still receive when they’re selected to play for the Tasmania Devils, welcoming them to a fraternity of champions and legends who also wore it.
Shaw describes the ‘Map’ with a reverence that incapsulates what Tasmanians feel whenever they see the jumper.
“The jumper has historical significance and the colours adopted in 1905 are still current it’s an unbreakable jumper.
“The term of endearment is just the ‘Map’ you don’t have to really elaborate further,” he said.
“It sits equal with the recognisable jumper of the ‘Swan’ of Western Australia, the ‘Croweater’ of South Australia, the ‘Big V’ and of course ours the ‘Map’ long may it continue.”
The proud history of the jumper is passed down from generation to generation, with Siggins remembering how the legacy of the ‘Map’ and those who wore it were taught to him as a teenager.
“We were educated from the age of 16 about making sure that when you pull on ‘Map’ you represent your state and all the people that have worn it before you,” he said.
The green, primrose and rose colours are not only a symbol for all Tasmanians to stand united under, but a unifying force for local rivals turned teammates in honour of their state.
“It’s a strange one when you get a group of guys who play against each other compete so hard and want to want to beat each other on any other weekend,” Siggins said.
“But I think as soon as you come into an environment where you’re going to play together and represent your state you put all that aside and you’re all on the same page.”
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Shaw also remembered how the jumper brought players together under the shared goal of representing their state.
“Your biggest rivalries at club football were your strongest friends courtesy of sharing that jumper and pulling it over your head at North Hobart Perth or in Adelaide,” he said.
Shaw is a proud custodian of the ‘Map’ and passionately exposes the significance it has to the Tasmanian football community.
He strongly believes the jumper has an important place with the incoming AFL team and should remain untouched as possible.
“It is a famous jumper admired and respected Australia-wide all states know our jumper they identify with our colours design and ‘Map” our people identify with the jumper,” Shaw said.
“I understand the debate do not let the marketers and graphic designers with respect loose on the jumper.
“It’s hard to improve on perfection and you can’t reinvent history it’s ours and if it is to change with the new team allow it to be very close to the original people need to identify and unify only the ‘Map’ is capable of that.”
Memories of playing for Tassie: “A special moment”
The honour of playing football for Tasmania comes with memories that last a lifetime. The thrill of competing for your state in the ultimate battle of pride and bragging rights.
Shaw played for Tasmania during State of Origin’s glory years, going against the likes of Malcolm Blight, Graham Cornes, Brian Peake and Graham Moss.
But one of his fondest memories also came in 1984 when he returned to Tasmania as captain-coach of Clarence.
Shaw’s promising VFL playing career with Essendon had ended just two years earlier after a litany of injuries forced him to retire.
It left him feeling unsure of how he’d fair in the TFL, let alone at State of Origin level.
“When I came back in ‘84 to coach Clarence I thought I would struggle to get a kick in such a strong comp against very good players, to get a call from Davo (Gary Davidson) to play in a state game was a great thrill,” Shaw said.
“I reckon Davo thought there were too many Glenorchy blokes so I was picked to give Super (Gary Linton) and Roly (Ronald Curley) a helping hand,” he jokingly added.
It’s impossible to talk about Shaw and the wider history of State of Origin in Tasmania without mentioning 1990.
On Sunday June 24, a young Tasmanian side famously upset Victoria by 33 points in front of more than 18,600 people at a parochial North Hobart Oval.
Shaw downplayed his role as coach in the historic victory, saying it was an all-encompassing effort from everyone involved.
“The 1990 win has been well documented I was just proud to be involved that day was a ‘collective force’ crowd, players, staff, admin and coaches,” he said.
“I get a lot of credit which is BS I’ve never seen a more united front under the banner of one jumper this a true reflection of what will come into the future.”
Representative football has diminished throughout Australia since State of Origin’s demise, but Tasmania’s passion for the ‘Map’ still runs strong.
It starts at junior levels, where Siggins first pulled on the jumper and learnt what it means to play for Tasmania.
The versatile ruckman has cherished every opportunity he’s had to wear the ‘Map’.
“Going through the old Mariners program and the State Under 16s, those are memories that remain so close to you those very early days of wearing the ‘Map’ are something you remember forever,” Siggins said.
“In 2017 when we played the NEAFL, I was a lot younger then and I guess inexperienced that was a special moment for me playing with guys the calibre of Jaye Bowden and Tom Couch it’s something you hold close.”
Shaw was pleased that local players, coaches and staff once again had the “honour” of representing their state and creating new memories in the ‘Map’.
“With the phasing out of State of Origin mainly due to pressure from clubs that did not want key players at risk this gives the players in our local comp a wonderful experience and enjoyment,” he said.
“It’s very significant given the number of players on the mainland that will never experience that there will be players that will never get to wear that jumper courtesy of timing and lack of opportunity.
“Treasure the experience it is a significant honour and the players deserve the honour it remains a very special jumper.”
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