By Parker McKenzie
On Sunday 5 June, Hawthorn star Liam Shiels played his 250th game for Hawthorn in their four-point loss to Collingwood Football Club, another milestone in a career spanning three premierships seasons and 14 years in the AFL.
In another life, however, Shiels may have been lining up for Australia as they prepare for their do-or-die World Cup qualifier.
“I actually grew up playing soccer till I was about 14 or 15. All my mates at Aquinas College were playing at the Basin Footy Club and they convinced me to go down and play. Otherwise, I’d still probably be playing soccer,” Shiels said.
“I was lucky enough to get picked up for the Eastern Ranges and played some okay footy down there and progressed through to Vic Metro and was lucky enough to make the squad, and then get drafted a couple of years later.”
Aside from a singular appearance for Boronia Football Club — filling in for his older brothers’ team — Shiels said spending his junior career with the Basin Football Club was integral to his development as a footballer.
“I had some of my greatest memories down at Batterham Reserve,” he said.
“Playing local footy is all about having fun with your mates and I think down there was a great experience and a great place to start my footy journey.”
Having grown up in Boronia, with his parents and siblings still residing in the surrounding area, the eastern suburbs remains a fixture in Shiels life.
“My sister’s fiancé is the captain down at The Basin now, so I get down and watch him a little bit,” he said.
“I try to get down there a couple of times throughout the season depending on when the schedule marries up with our games.”
When Shiels was first drafted by Hawthorn in 2008, he had no idea of the journey and career he was setting out on.
“I knew I was going to a pretty strong footy club and it was going to be tough to get a game, but Hawthorn didn’t make finals in 2009 and had a rough year in 2010 so a few of us younger guys who’d been at the club for only a few years started to get a few games, which definitely helped out with my development,” he said.
“From 2011 to probably 2018 we were a highly successful side that was challenging for premierships every year, finishing in the top four. To play in four grand finals and win three of those is a huge thrill.
“A lot of players go through their whole career playing in limited finals and only a few get to play in a premiership. To play in three, I feel extremely grateful.”
His three premierships came in 2013, 2014 and 2015 and Shiels has won several club awards and honours throughout his career.
Despite the success he’s already experienced, Shiels believes he still has another year or two of professional football left in him.
“My body still feels good and I’m really enjoying it. My mind’s in a good place and hopefully, I’ve got another year or two left in me,” he said.
“I’m 31 now, that’s old in terms of footy and you usually get one-year contracts after that. Fingers crossed I can stay at Hawthorn and be a one-club player.”
For any local aspiring footballers looking to follow in his footsteps, Shiels said the most important thing to do is work hard and enjoy your football.
“Put in the extra work, whether it’s around their skills, practising their non-preferred handball, doing plenty of touch with the footy so they’re clean out there on game day, doing extra recovery or eating the right stuff, anything to get the one up against your opponent or anyone else who’s trying to get drafted,” he said.
“It’s important to have fun and enjoy yourself. That’s why I first started playing AFL footy because I wanted to catch up on Monday at school about how we went on the weekend.”
Most of all, Shiels said he is grateful to be able to play 250 games “at a great club like Hawthorn.”
“I’ve had an enormous amount of help throughout my junior career and ever since I started playing AFL,” he said.
“I’ve got a lot of people to thank, it’s hard to single out there are so many, but probably most importantly my family have supported me my whole life and my whole football career.”