Shaun Burgoyne once pointed to Brent Harvey and Dustin Fletcher as evidence age is irrelevant if an AFL player keeps performing.
Half a decade later, the 38-year-old Hawthorn champion has proved his own theory correct in an era when the competition has never been more demanding.
As a result, Burgoyne is on the cusp of elevating himself into one of football’s most elite clubs, joining just four other players in reaching 400 AFL/VFL games.
Only Harvey (432), Michael Tuck (426), Kevin Bartlett (403) and Fletcher (400) have achieved that feat in 125 years.
Boomer, Tucky, Hungry and Inspector Gadget can finally add Silk to their society of football superheroes when Hawthorn take on Burgoyne’s former club Port Adelaide on Saturday night.
“Those guys are legends of the game, they’re all icons of the game, and in no way should I have my name mentioned with those guys … that’s a bit embarassing,” Burgoyne said on AFL 360 this week in typically self-effacing manner.
“Tucky and Kevin were a bit before my time, but those other two I watched play as a young kid.
“They gave me a bit of a goal; if they can play that long, so can I.”
Anyone who has witnessed Burgoyne’s career over the past two decades will argue the four-time premiership star sits comfortably alongside those men.
Burgoyne becoming the first Indigenous player to reach 400 games makes his achievement all the more notable.
“He’s an amazing ambassador for the game, not just as a player, but as an Indigenous man who sets an incredible example for all our Indigenous brothers and sisters,” former Hawks assistant coach and Western Bulldogs premiership mentor Luke Beveridge said, adding his name to a long list of admirers saluting Burgoyne this week.
Burgoyne’s AFL career began in 2002 with Port Adelaide, where he played 157 games and starred in the 2004 flag alongside older brother Peter.
A trade move in 2009 led to an important role in Hawthorn’s rise to becoming the competition’s pre-eminent force and a hat-trick of premierships from 2013-15.
The switch almost didn’t happen amid fears in Victoria over Burgoyne’s longevity because of a dodgy knee, but a drawn-out process was eventually settled when the Hawks and Power struck a complicated deal that involved Essendon and Geelong.
“Things happen for a reason,” Burgoyne said.
That reason might as well have been on-field success.
At Hawthorn, the tough, skilful and versatile team man quickly cemented his reputation as a big-game player who would step up in the biggest moments.
Few have been more important than the famous goal that sunk Geelong in the 2013 preliminary final, steering the Hawks to the season decider against Fremantle that would begin their golden run.
“If I could be reliable, dependable … that’s what I wanted for my teammates, to know that they could trust me in those big games,” Burgoyne said.
It wasn’t just a quirk of fate that allowed Burgoyne to play his milestone match against his former club.
The veteran was managed last week as the medical substitute, lightening his load to get him through to an ideal fixture in which to mark the occasion.
It has been a similar story behind the scenes over the past decade or so, with Burgoyne admitting to a “quality over quantity” method at training between games.
The medi-sub wasn’t even a consideration for the AFL when Burgoyne made his debut as a skinny teenager, but is just one of many changes he’s witnessed across 20 seasons at the top level.
“The rules have changed, the style of play has changed … everything has changed and you just have to adapt to it,” Burgoyne said.
SHAUN BURGOYNE’S CAREER SO FAR
DEBUT: 2002 (Port Adelaide v St Kilda, round three)
GAMES: 399 (Port Adelaide 157; Hawthorn 242)
GOALS: 301 (Port Adelaide 171; Hawthorn 130)
PREMIERSHIPS: 4 (Port Adelaide – 2004; Hawthorn – 2013, 2014, 2015)
ALL-AUSTRALIAN: 1 (2006)