The man behind the 52: Shaun Rehn

Shaun Rehn claimed two premierships at the Adelaide Crows before moving to Hawthorn. Picture: afc.com.au

From a farm in Arno Bay, Shaun Rehn made his way into the AFL on the inaugural Adelaide Crows list.

The towering ruckman was one of the most underrated players to grace the game across a decade of football.

Jack Hudson: You grew up on a farm in Arno Bay, what was your childhood like?

Shaun Rehn: Well, when you look back, I had a very fortunate childhood.

I had three other siblings, I was the youngest and we lived on a wheat and sheep farm and I grew up very passionate about being on the farm with my dad.

As kids, we had some horses and later dad had motorbikes as well, we had a lot of fun and an enjoyable childhood.

It was a farming culture that was centered around Saturday weekend sport and then looking after your own interests.

JH: Where did you play your junior footy?

SR: I played all my junior footy with Arno Bay until I went to boarding school.

JH: You tried out for the West Adelaide, yet you were in Port’s zone, how did that come about?

SR: I was quite a late developer.

I grew late and probably blossomed as a footballer towards the end of year 12.

I was encouraged by two gentlemen from West Adelaide, one of them was Jeff Forrest, who was our firsts coach at the time and Robert Day, who had played for Westies and Hawthorn.

There was an encouragement from those guys to try out for Westies and I guess at the time, I probably wasn’t confident enough in my own ability and Port were a pretty strong club.

They were extremely strong at the time and that was something, and when someone asks you, you go and have a crack.

JH: Selected for the Adelaide Crows, what was that like?

SR: It was a pretty exciting when Adelaide began.

At that time, I was doing my first pre-season to want to play league football for West Adelaide.

I had just moved in with a couple other lads who were also from the country for Westies, those two guys with myself, we were as enthusiastic as watching the new Crows side and all the trial games and it wasn’t until just prior to the start of the season they finally selected their last 10 players on the list.

I was chosen and that was part of their agreement, they could pick some juniors out of the SANFL, so I never went through the draft system.

That was something that just happened at the time.

JH: Was it weird avoiding the draft system?

SR: Well, it was a pretty tumultuous time just with SANFL full stop with everything that was happened.

Everything that happened created the Crows, the excitement around having our own AFL side in the state was pretty cool.

To be a part of that at the beginning was very exciting, because most of the players that were on that original list were people that we’d been watching play in Victoria or South Australia and they were our inspiration or our idols as kids.

Most of those players, to be in the same player as them as a kid, was really special.

JH: Who were some of those players you looked up to?

SR: You could throw a blanket over all of them, David Marshall, Chris McDermott, Grant Fielke, Mark Mickan.

All of them had been playing in the AFL and had come back or had been part of that South Australian retention scheme that held them in SA, like Andrew Jarman and Simon Tregenza.

As I was growing up, we all took a hell of a lot of interest in watching and to be placed in the same room as all those people was pretty cool.

JH: Wore the 52 from the start and you kept it, what was the significance of it?

SR: It was the number I was given.

Because I debuted in that first game, it was the guernsey that was allotted to me.

There was probably one occasion I was asked if I’d like to wear a different number, but I really liked the number and because I started with it, I was happy to keep it.

Number 52 was right on the end of the lockers, so it gave me more room to spread all my crap out.

JH: Debut against Sydney at Football Park, what do you remember about it?

SR: I only got 10 minutes on the field; Sydney won the game.

I sat there for a lot of the game, but I do remember how the crowd was.

The side had been playing away for two or three weeks, so it was a home game and there was a huge crowd and a very vocal one.

To experience that noise and crowd for the first time, if only for 10 minutes, the game just buzzed before you very quickly.

It’s hard to explain, it’s impossible to explain.

When you see every kid make their debut, you realise every one of them is going through that same situation where the decisions were quicker and the blur of all the extra noise, the colour and all those things you’ve never felt before.

It has a pretty profound effect on you.

JH: The 1993 season was huge for the Crows, what do you remember about that season?

SR: We were extremely lucky to make the finals; it was final six back then and we needed to beat Collingwood in the final round to make it.

They got off to an absolute belter, they had about four or five goals on the board before we’d even started.

We were pretty well led by Chris McDermott and Tony McGuinness had a pretty good game that day too, there were plenty of players that stepped up and we were able to get over the line.

That’s when Tony Modra was playing some of his best football as well, so it was pretty exciting to play finals.

We went into that finals series with a pretty good side and went in there with the shackles off and we were able to perform quite well.

Unfortunately, could’ve played in a grand final but stuffed up the last game of the season.

JH: You mentioned ‘Mods’, what was it like playing alongside him?

SR: It was always good to look up.

Maybe use yourself as a step ladder.

Him and Darren Jarman were the same, that if the ball reached them and they had a kick at goal, you were extremely confident that they were going to kick the goal.

The conversation rate of both of them was really high.

We played in an era where there was probably a bit more space to lead into.

He just had freakish ability and he was just a very rare person to kick 129 goals.

It’s hard to even quantify that now, it was an incredible achievement.

JH: In 1994, you won best and fairest and were All-Australian, how great was that for you to achieve?

SR: Yeah it was a bit of a culmination of getting fitter and more confident I suppose.

It was a poor year for us because we missed the finals, I actually broke my foot early in the pre-season and struggled to train during the year.

I always maintained that maybe I was fresher than my teammates sometimes, but it was a good reward personally.

I think Mark Ricciuto made his first All-Australian side that year.

Personally, it was a nice achievement, but the team, we just weren’t able to live up to the potential for the year before.

JH: In 1995 and 1996 injuries took their toll, how much of a battle was it to get back?

SR: It was a big battle.

When I did my knee the second time, it really hit home that potentially this is my career, there’s no guarantee that a tall guy would come back from two on the same knee.

It was a very real situation, I was very lucky I had some extremely good people by my side.

My surgeon Wilson Lee and everyone was really supportive, but Robbie Crothers the weights coach at the time, his individual sessions at the time were really able to assist me in getting back fit and confident to have a crack back again.

JH: You returned in 1997 and went onto be a part of the Crows first ever flag. What do you remember about that whole year?

SR: For me personally, it was trying to gain my feet for the whole year.

I don’t think I really hit my straps until the last five or six games of that season and Malcolm Blight used me off the bench.

David Pittman was a fantastic teammate and friend and he used to jump very hard at the opposition ruckman, he used to soften them up before Blighty would bring me on.

For the year, it was an extraordinary experience to have a coach who believed that he knew he was coaching to coach a premiership not in three years but right now.

We had pretty good fitness staff, Neil Craig had us pretty fit, we trained harder than we ever had in our life.

As a team we played the season with a really good base of fitness and with Blighty a game plan and a structural core that really believed that we could win.

That year we were really trying to gain some respect, because in 1995 and 1996 we certainly lost some significant credibility as a footy club and respect.

It was like a lot of the time it was about trying to play the sort of football to get the respect of the opposition and the football world, as there was a belief we didn’t have that.

It sort of just happened, it happened for a reason and everything we did to make things as good as they possibly could be happened in that year.

JH: What do you remember about the day itself – the grand final?

SR: The day itself, where do you start?

We had a hugely emotional game the week before, it was an incredible game to overcome a red-hot Western Bulldogs team and overcoming that game and then finding ourselves in the grand final, we were quite mature the way we went about it.

The fact Blighty had been there before, that confidence came through us.

We were really lucky at half-time to still be in the game, my memories are of just some extraordinary games my teammates had on the day and the contributions they had to create a situation where we could win a premiership.

JH: The next year in 1998, early in the finals it looked as if the Crows were in strife, how did that mentality change to get the flag?

SR: It did, but there was an anomaly which meant that the highest ranked loser got to stay in the finals, we were lucky we were in that situation.

Melbourne gave us a fair hiding at the MCG and we didn’t play great football.

Monday came and it was a pretty solid video session with Blighty and we went out and trained on the Monday night.

It was one of the most solid mentally and physically taxing training sessions. I can’t remember how long it went for, but I remember the fire within Malcolm and the way we trained.

It’s like in a way instead of overthinking a loss, we just went to work and we went to Sydney and it was ankle-deep in water.

We played a really hard style of footy, we played a great game of footy to win away to give us another crack at the Bulldogs.

The catalyst was definitely that Monday night training session in a lot of ways.

We were certainly hardened in that week after we lost to Melbourne.

JH: Were there differences and similarities from 1997 to 1998?

SR: The similarities were we were both down at half-time and that comes down to the style of footy we were playing at the time and our fitness.

We peaked at the right time and once again we had some players in our team that had extraordinary games of football.

It was a team effort, but there were some standout performances that enabled us to get over the line.

JH: You then missed the entirety of 1999, how tough was that?

SR: It was probably the toughest of the lot actually.

It took me those two years to get back to full fitness and be able to feel extremely confident about my body and I had a young family.

I was in a good headspace, so when I did my knee that third time, it really did knock me around.

JH: Returned in 2000 for one more season at the Crows, what do you remember about it?

SR: Probably that I wasn’t ready, I wasn’t prepared.

The knee that I did was my jumping leg, one of the things right at the end of your rehab is you believe you’ve got your strength back, but trying to convert that into power and certainly timing was difficult.

That was always the most difficult part of your rehab and I think that I returned to playing earlier than I should’ve, which means I probably lost at least six weeks of the training that I should’ve used to gain some confidence.

At the start of the year, even though I was playing, I was certainly below my best and really struggled.

I was probably struggling mentally confidence wise to jump as well.

I don’t think it was until I broke my cheekbone halfway through the season and had to miss five or six weeks and in that time I was able to go back to the drawing board and probably finish off the rehab part I should’ve done earlier.

JH: How did the move to the Hawks come about?

SR: The Hawks move came about as there were a number of us vying for the first ruck.

I think the writing was on the wall of who Gary Ayres was looking to play.

They’d just recruited Matty Clarke and Rhett Biglands was an upcoming star ruckman coming through the ranks.

At the same time, I probably knew I didn’t have much time left and I needed a bit of inspiration myself, maybe a change of scenery.

I guess the opportunity arose because the Hawks were interested and I knew the club was in good hands with who they had on their list as future ruckman.

They had Clarkey as they were never certain how much was left in me or if I was ever going to return to my standard.

Clarkey came in and Rhett proved to be a great combination for a few years after that.

JH: What do you remember the most about your time from the Hawks?

SR: We nearly made the grand final in that first year, that year was incredible.

Peter Schwab was a great fella and Chris Connolly was his assistant at the time, he was very affable and had great communication.

He was quite an entertaining person, I really enjoyed both of those coaches’ dynamics and what they were trying to achieve.

For me going there and trying to influence some of the young blokes coming through the footy club who ended up being significant players in the future.

It’s always good to sit back and watch that footy club eventually do very well and you knew what those kids were like when they walked through the door like Chance Bateman, Luke Hodge, Sam Mitchell, Robbie Campbell.

There were all these players who’d just been drafted in the two years I was there and it was great to be in Melbourne and in a new city, it was exciting and a great experience.

I thoroughly enjoyed it and appreciate Hawthorn giving me the opportunity.

JH: After your playing days you coached at your old club West Adelaide, were you always interested in coaching?

SR: I had an opportunity to stay at Hawthorn, but my wife was pregnant with our twins at the time and she felt a strong want to get back to Adelaide and to our home.

That’s what we did.

I did have a strong drive to coach straight away, I had a crack at the Glenelg job and missed out on that then West Adelaide was also available, so I was very lucky to have it.

I had a great time and really enjoyed working with Doug (Thomas) at West Adelaide.

Shaun Rehn remembers the late Shane Tuck

JH: You made the grand final in the first season, how incredible was that?

SR: It was incredible in that the team we put on the park that day was a team that had all stayed together for two or three years.

It was probably a team all capable of playing AFL-standard football.

We unearthed some kids, we knew that there was a lot of talent coming through and it’s not until five to 10 years down the track you don’t realise how special some of those kids were.

At the end of that year, we had an enormous amount of that group drafted to the AFL, one of them was the late Shane Tuck.

Tucky came over and I’d never seen him play, we were just hopeful to get him over there.

If you look at the names that actually influenced that year, there was Beau Waters, Adam Cooney, Ben Rutten, Jason Porplyzia, Dom Cassisi, Shane Tuck, Sam Fisher, Tim Schmidt.

It was an incredible group of players.

There was all these players that at the time who had just made their debut and we pulled them all together and we made a grand final.

That group of people and the group that were already there, it was an unbelievable group of people to coach and it was a really awesome year.

In fact a lot of them are very close as a group and they still talk about that year as being a pretty special year for the club, albeit not winning a premiership.

JH: You moved to the Brisbane Lions in 2006, how good was that experience?

SR: They had some great rucks, they had Beau McDonald, Clark Keating, Jamie Charman, it was a wonderful experience.

I loved the way Brisbane played their footy and it was very similar to the way we played in the midfield at Adelaide, Blighty and Leigh Matthews had a lot of similarities.

To see how that place worked was a great privilege and I really enjoyed it.

Brisbane was a great place to live and the weather up is great.

JH: Did some work with Port Adelaide too, what was that experience like?

SR: Awesome.

I spent a year in the media and was extremely keen to get back involved and I was so grateful for Keith Thomas and Matty Primus at the time allowing me to be the midfield coach at the club.

Matty didn’t survive too long, but the ability to go in there and at least be a part of trying to bring that football club back from where it was, it was just awesome.

To coach under Ken, Tyson Edwards and Matty Nicks were there too, it was a bloody good dynamic of people there.

The players there were probably some of the most talented groups of people I’ve ever been involved in and they still are.

JH: What are you up to now?

SR: We moved back up here after I finished with Port Adelaide and we’ve got 70 acres of macadamias and cattle country and also manage to other mecca farms that are very close, so that’s my go.

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