Tales of Tasmania: Robert Shaw

Robert Shaw is one of many Tasmanians who have made a significant contribution to the game of Australian Rules Football. For the better part of five decades he has been involved in playing and coaching at both grassroots and elite levels, and has aided the development of many young footballers across the country. Given the current landscape of Tasmanian football, it is becoming increasingly important to showcase the stories of those from the Island State that have shaped the game at a national level. Earlier this week, Robert was kind enough to give up some of his time to chat with me as we talked about his distinguished career and his take on the direction of Tasmanian football beyond 2018.


The now defunct Sandy Bay football club was, at a time, the most powerful on field club in the state and produced a reputation for exceptional displays of football. This was no more evident than in the era between 1971 and 1978 in which ‘The Seagulls’ played in every grand final under coaches Rod Olsson (70-75, ex-Hawthorn) and Paul Sproule (76-78, ex-Essendon and Richmond), ultimately winning five premierships and one state title. However, the club meant much more to a young Robert Shaw than just premierships. Rather, it was a way of life, with his father having played 136 games in the blue and white. ‘It was dream come true to play for my dad’s club and alongside my heroes… it was all I ever wanted to do as my grandparents and mum were brought up in Sandy Bay and saw the first premiership in 1946’, he said.


After two years among the senior ranks at Sandy Bay, Shaw was approached and recruited by Essendon in the VFL. While he is remembered as a rugged and reliable defender, it is a number of injuries that unfortunately complete the narrative of his playing days. This ultimately lead to his retirement at the age of 26 after just  51 senior games – ‘Injuries curtailed me to the extent that I had 8 operations missing a total of over 120 games. I survived for 10 years and was fortunate to play at a great club’. While not ideal, the time spent on the sideline helped to spark a new passion for Shaw – coaching. Under Kevin Sheedy, he served a coaching apprenticeship in 1983 before returning to Tasmania to coach Clarence to Grand Finals in 1984 and 1985. An issue with a university deferment meant that Shaw was faced with a tough decision; stay at Clarence and continue to develop as a senior coach or return to Victoria and maintain a spot at school.


Eventually, the pursuit of a career outside of football won out – but the opportunities to flourish within the game still remained. Opportunities such as returning to his former club to coach the reserves from 1986-88 and work alongside Sheedy as an assistant, a move that would herald great success and create a great partnership with one of the game’s greats. ‘Sheeds was a creative coach and gave his assistants a licence. He trusted them to do their jobs. I went back from 1999-2005 and was involved in many finals and Grand Finals including the 2000 premiership. That was a great time and continued a 20 plus year involvement with Essendon’, Shaw said.


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J A jubilant Robert Shaw celebrates a win with Alastair Lynch (left) and Michael Dunstan (right). Picture: AFL Media.

Indeed, the opportunities were endless for Robert Shaw and in 1989 he accepted an offer to coach Fitzroy’s reserves, a move that would be rewarded with premiership success in the same year. In later years, he took up the senior coaching roles at the Lions (1991-94) and Adelaide (1995-96). Financial woes made it tough for Fitzroy to maintain its existence, but that meant little for Shaw. Instead, he saw a club built on great traditions, with a rightful place in the fabric of football in Melbourne’s suburbs. When asked about how tough it was to work in that particular environment, he chose to focus on the positives rather than the woes  – ‘I’m so proud to have coached that great club. Yes it was tough but footy clubs are about good people and while you may not have money you can still have culture’. While success as senior coach of Fitzroy was rare, it was another achievement from this period that is a major highlight in Shaw’s coaching career.


The year 1990 is remembered fondly by Tasmanian football fans for perhaps the most famous game that the State has played, toppling Victoria by 33 points at North Hobart Oval in front of a crowd in excess of 18000 people. The small ground is a unique one, situated as the amphitheatre for football in the middle of Hobart’s residential and industrial surrounds. The ground can be seen as an embodiment of the all encompassing history of the game in Southern Tasmania. All these years later, Shaw still suggests that ‘it still feels very much like the home of football’. Lead by 24 year old captain Darrin Pritchard, a youthful Tasmanian side boasting the likes of Paul Hudson, Alastair Lynch and James Manson showed just how well equipped the State was to perform on a big stage, defeating the ‘Big V’ for the first time in 30 years. ‘I chose to pick a young side to showcase Tasmania’s emerging talent. We were hopeful of getting a licence to be in the AFL… State of Origin was flying and we were a big part of it’, Shaw said. His involvement in the State side is an achievement that is looked back upon fondly – ‘How fortunate was I…Two state carnivals as a player in 79 and 80 and then  the opportunity to coach 88 and 90-93’.


Coaching is something that Robert Shaw cares immensely for, so much so that he is currently a multi-premierships winning coach of Brighton Grammar school – a team with an incredible record, having completed a three-peat of premiership from 2014-16. Some of the players coming through this system include Melbourne’s Jayden Hunt and Christian Salem, as well as 2017 AFL Rising Star winner, Essendon’s Andrew McGrath. This is not Shaw’s first experience with underage football though, having been the coach of the Tassie Mariners for the 1998 TAC Cup season. By his own admission, this was not his most successful stint – ‘It took me a while to get used to the adjustment and I didn’t coach that well. The team struggled but again a great experience’. While the team battled on-field, their efforts did not go unnoticed on draft night as four members of this team were selected by AFL clubs. The most notable of these players was three-time North Melbourne Best and Fairest winner, Devonport’s Brady Rawlings.


In what is one of the great shames of the present day Tasmanian football landscape, the Mariners no longer exist. In its place, the State Under 18s academy feed into the ‘Allies’ team that play in the National Under 18s championships. The AFL licence for the Apple Isle that Shaw and many others had been hopeful of obtaining in 1990 is even further away than what it seemed to be three decades ago. Ensuring that the Mariners return to the TAC Cup and creating a strategic plan for Tasmania’s own AFL team are vital to the State cleaning up its football mess for Shaw, who is also an advocate for a return to the VFL and the promotion of strong club, junior and school football across Tasmania’s three regions.


Today, Robert Shaw is more widely known for his dual role as a teacher and director of football at Brighton Grammar, but he has carved out a proud playing a coaching legacy that cannot be forgotten. From his beginnings as a schoolboy playing alongside his idols, he has gone full circle and is now helping to develop the next generation of the game’s champions. As has been shown, his career is just another of the countless examples of a Tasmanian shaping the National game, something that is all too often forgotten by those in the boardrooms of AFL House.



Robert  Shaw’s Football Record:


Sandy Bay FC player -1971-72


Essendon FC player – 1973-81, 51 games 8 goals (1981 Night Premiership)


Tasmania Carnival Player – 1979-80, 6 games


Clarence FC Captain/Coach – 1984-85 (1984 TANFL Premiership)


Essendon Assistant Coach – 1986-88, 1999-2005


Tasmania Coach – 1988, 1990-93, 9 games


Fitzroy Assistant Coach – 1989-90 (1989 Reserves Premiership)


Fitzroy Senior Coach – 1991-94, 86 games


Adelaide Senior Coach – 1995-96, 44 games


Tassie Mariners Coach – 1998


Current Brighton Grammar 1st XVIII Coach and Director of Football (2014-16 Premierships)


AFL 200 Club Member


Essendon Life Member


Tasmanian Football Hall of Fame Inductee – Legend Status


About Liahm O'Brien

Burnie based Tasmanian Tiger that never made it past the title of 'under 18s scrapper' in the footy world - now telling the stories of those that could play the game.


  1. Thanks Liahm.
    That’s a terrific piece.
    Particularly in the current circumstances.

    Sandy Bay and North Hobart such wonderful locations – and of great significance in Australian football.

    Hats off to R Shaw for all that he achieved, continues to achieve and for his ongoing advocacy of Tassie’s place in Australian football.


  2. Thanks David, North Hobart will always be THE ground in the south of the state. Everyone involved in footy in some way has a memory of that ground.

    Robert Shaw will have left an unbelievable legacy by the time he decides to retire. Some of the names he’s coach in recent years – Hunt, Salem, McGrath, Kelly…the list goes on.

    I’d love to do posts like these more regularly, just need to find more people willing to have a yarn.

  3. Robert Shaw is an ornament to the game of Australian football.
    His record speaks for itself – as does his passion.

    “We were hopeful of getting a licence to be in the AFL” It is amazing how little it has all changed. What is going on with Tasmania now is a disgrace.

    Well played, Liahm.

  4. Exactly right Smokie – He also spoke about his confusion as to why Tasmania got lumped in with the allies all those years ago (obviously this didn’t make the final cut in the article). With a bit of luck, some new findings from Gil’s next trip to the State make monumental changes.

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