Recruiting blunder that delivered Tigers gun
Richmond's Shane Edwards has been dubbed a Shaun Burgoyne clone for his capacity to keep improving with age in a variety of roles.
But the unassuming Tigers star would have done so in a different jumper, if not for a never-before revealed recruiting overrule.
As Edwards prepares to become the 250th player to play 250 games - against Carlton at the MCG today - the Sunday Herald Sun can detail for the first time how Brisbane missed their chance to secure the wiry, talented 18-year-old.
The Lions' then recruiting manager Craig Brittain had been desperate to take the North Adelaide teenager with the club's pick 22 in the 2006 national draft.
But when he put forward Edwards' name for selection, Brittain was vetoed by the powers above him - much to his ongoing chagrin.
Instead, Brisbane chose another indigenous teenager, Queensland under-18 captain Albert Proud, which allowed the Tigers to take Edwards four picks later.
Edwards has gone on to become one of the Tigers' best, and most admired, players.
Proud managed only 29 games for the Lions, with a series of off-field issues and trouble with the law pushing him on a downward spiral. In 2016, he received a five-year prison term for bashing his partner.
Justin Leppitsch, who has twice been an assistant coach at Richmond, revealed the details of the sliding doors moment this week.
"Craig Brittain was doing recruiting (for the Lions) and he wanted to take 'Shedda' with the second pick Brisbane had just before Richmond," Leppitsch said.
"But they (the football department) went against him, which he still upsets him today.
"They wanted to take Albert Proud, who didn't end up lasting (at the Lions).
"Craig said to me 'Keep following that kid (Edwards) … I wanted to pick him'.
'I told 'Shedda' it was a sliding doors moment … he could easily have ended up in Brisbane."
Coincidentally, Edwards initially believed he had been drafted to Brisbane in November 2006 after an internet malfunction at his Adelaide home.
The draft wasn't televised that Saturday morning and Edwards had to rely on a phone call for the news of his future home.
"The phone rang about 10.30 and I picked it up. It was Craig McRae on the phone," his father Greg Edwards said. "He introduced himself and asked to speak to Shane, who was standing next to me.
"Shane was like, 'Which club is it?'. I said: 'Brisbane', because I thought Craig McRae was from Brisbane.
"Shane stumbled his way through the call, thinking he was going to Brisbane. When he put down the phone, he said to me: 'Dad, it's Richmond'."
THE SPRAY THAT STILL DRIVES HIM
Edwards hates letting people down.
He's rarely ever done it, but the fear of it still drives him.
It's something that pushed him his junior career with Golden Grove in South Australia, with North Adelaide in the SANFL and now in 13 seasons in yellow and black.
But there was one time he felt he let the side down.
That came during the 2006 season when he was playing one of his 10 games with North Adelaide seniors under the coaching of SANFL great Andrew Jarman.
Edwards was crook with the flu, but disguised it well enough to play. He delivered a less than satisfactory performance, prompting a response from his coach.
"'Jars' was a great teacher, and he grabbed Shane and said: 'Don't you ever be so selfish again," Greg Edwards recalled.
"I know that stuck in Shane's head. He still remembers it.
"He hates the idea of doing anything to let his teammates, or 'Dimma' (Damien Hardwick) down. He's very conscious of that."
Jack Riewoldt, who was drafted alongside Edwards in the Tigers' class of 2006, says the best thing about his teammate is that he is so reliable and dependable.
"He is just the epitome of what you want from a footballer and a teammate," Riewoldt said. "He is a very good player and a very good person."
EXTRA TO EXPERT
There was a running joke in Chris Newman's online Hello Newman videos on the club's website at the back end of his career at Richmond.
As Newman toured the homes of Richmond stars, one constant was Edwards' appearance as an extra in the skits.
In Jake King's segment, the opening of a wardrobe revealed Edwards bound and gagged as if he was being held hostage.
The footballer who was affectionately cast as an extra not that many years ago is now a bona fide star.
The durable utility has never played fewer than 15 games in a season since making his debut in 2007 - this year will be his eighth that he has played at least 20.
A second successive All-Australian blazer seems assured next month.
"He is an absolute beauty," Leppitsch said this week. "It is very rare that you get better in your late 20s or early 30s, but he has clearly done that."
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Riewoldt said Edwards is the best handballer he has ever seen, and "every recruiter's dream … as they search for players with that football chip - and he's got it."
There were some tough early years from a team perspective, which wasn't lost on Edwards this week.
"I feel like I have experienced a lot in 250 games," he said on 3AW. "I have seen what it's like being at the bottom (of the ladder) and finding that extremely difficult to win games, and now it has been the opposite."
Those closest to him maintain coach Damien Hardwick has played a significant role in getting the best out of Edwards as a player.
Shane's father said: "The way the game changes can make or break some players. A player's skills and speed don't necessarily change, but the game style does give certain players an opportunity to come on. I reckon that's what's happened to Shane."
"He got to 26 and was going OK. But the way the game is played now suits him. Dimma wanted Shane's flair because it suited the way he wanted the club to play.
"In the early days some coaches thought he was a bit risky, which probably stifled his development a bit.
"Shane watched some vision with Dimma one day and he missed a couple of handballs. He told Dimma that he needed to learn from that. But Dimma said, 'No, we need to learn to go faster, and understand what you are going to do with it."
Edwards always knew about his indigenous heritage, through his mother Tara, but hadn't looked into it.
That all changed on a Richmond Football Club trip to the small Aboriginal community at Santa Teresa, about 80km from Alice Springs, in 2013.
Greg Edwards detailed: "He and his brother Kym have always known about his background on his mum's side, but he had never really investigated it.
"That is until Richmond took him to Santa Teresa. The guy who interviewed him there asked him what his great grandmother's last name was. It was Summerfield, and he asked if there were any Summerfields in the room.
"All of these young indigenous kids rushed up on stage to hug him."
Edwards' great-grandmother, Elsie Summerfield, had been one of the stolen generation, and that trip connected him to distant relatives he never really knew existed.
Six years on, Edwards has embraced the next wave of indigenous players at Richmond, and a close look at the club's theme song most weeks sees him standing alongside Sydney Stack, Daniel Rioli and Shai Bolton.
"He is a great role model for our indigenous players," Riewoldt said. "But I'd go further than that, and say he is a great role model for our other young players, too, and our staff.
"When he stepped into the captaincy this year, when the three of us (Riewoldt, Trent Cotchin and Alex Rance) were out, it was really important to him."
His first game in charge came against Port Adelaide at Adelaide Oval in Round 4.
Before the game he resolved to make it a fun experience, telling his father he wanted to give an old-fashioned rev-up warm-up.
"He got the boys together, got them all in close, and got Kamdyn McIntosh to yell out, 'Give me 10'," his father said with a smile.
"AFL clubs don't do all that old warm-up stuff, but he did it, and everyone was laughing."
THE BURGOYNE CLONE
Riewoldt says his close mate reminds him so much of Hawthorn's Shaun Burgoyne.
That's a good comparison for Tigers fans.
Burgoyne is still playing good footy at 36 in just about any position required. Edwards is doing the same and doesn't turn 31 until October.
"I see him nearly as a clone of Shaun Burgoyne," Riewoldt said. "He has that ability to play back, forward, mid. He impacts wherever he goes.
"We would love to have three of him."
Leppitsch couldn't believe his luck earlier this year when the defensive coach had the luxury of having Edwards at half-back for a period.
But, in keeping with his career, he has forever been on the move.
"It's funny, he is the sort of guy who changes positions so often because he is so good in every position he plays," Leppitsch said. "He has bounced around his whole career.
"He is going to be one of those guys who, when he walks away from his career, you wonder what position he actually did play.
"I stole him for a while and then, as the half-backs kept coming back like (Jayden) Short and (Bachar) Houli, they stole him back for the midfield.
"I haven't been able to steal him (again), but I'll keep pushing."