Ultimate Victorian Wool Team – Shane Heard: The farm lad who developed tagging

Ultimate Wool Team: Shane Heard

 

Shane Heard, from a farm in the Wimmera in Victoria, played football for the Essendon Football club at the highest level from 1977-87 (and returned for one year in ‘91) and was involved in a premiership at the Bombers in ’84. His background and his life after football as a sheep farmer qualifies him for the Ultimate Wool Team for Victoria.

Shane was born in 1958 in Horsham into a family heavily involved in the wool industry. As a youngster he helped his father out on the farm near Horsham doing odd jobs here and there. This was while he played his footy for the Homers Football Club from the Horsham District League. They were not too far away from where he lived so it was easy to play his footy there. He was recruited to the Essendon Football Club as an 18 year old in 1977 under the zoning system. When he was recruited, he already had senior footy experience, having played 65 senior games for the Homers.

 

Shane made his debut for the Bombers in his first year at the club, in Round 5 against North Melbourne. He had a quiet first game managing 4 disposals (4 kicks) and a mark. He was not dropped however, and in the following few games showed his ability to get the ball by getting 20, 22 and 20 possessions respectively. He then went on to play a further six games in his first year, only managing to be involved in one win. In those 10 games he averaged 15 disposals. He came into the club with such names as Russell Muir, Merv Neagle, Wayne Primmer, Stephen Taubert and Tim Watson.

 

Initially he was a ‘jack of all trades’; he was capable of playing all over the ground, in particular on the wing. He was described as a player who was quick around the ground, clever in tight, and a good ball-handler. The only criticism of him was that he lacked consistency.

 

After Kevin Sheedy took over in 1981 finding the perfect position for him as a tagger, a role that made him far more consistent. He was soon regarded as one of the best taggers in the competition due to his great concentration, speed and cleverness around the contest. You could say he was one of the original taggers of the competition. Tagging has been a staple ever since and for that you can thank Heard and others from the 80’s. His role as a tagger hit its peak in the 1984 Bombers Grand Final win when he played on the Hawks key player Robert ‘Dipper’ DiPierdomenico. He was able to completely shut him out of the game and, according to the Essendon website, this went a long way to the Bombers winning the premiership. Not only did he shut Dipper out of the game, he also was equal highest possession winner on the ground for the Bombers with 23. Along with the premiership medal, he was rewarded at the end of the year by winning the coach’s award, for a second year running.

 

In 1985 he was on track to be a part of the side that went back to back, but in the last training session before the Grand Final he did his hamstring. Sheedy wanted him to play in the Grand Final but being the team man he was, he told Sheedy he couldn’t play as he didn’t want to let the boys down.

 

His good form and standing as a tagger saw him get selected for the Victorian state side in 85, 86 and 87. However, it was his appearance for Victoria in 1986 against South Australia that will always be remembered. He was brought into the squad as a late inclusion by Sheedy to quell the influence of John Platten. The only thing was that no-one knew about it, not even his team-mates. He was flown to Adelaide, under a different name (Mr Shane) and ahead of the team. He met the team a few hours before the game and, to make sure South Australia didn’t know, he didn’t train with the Victorian side and wasn’t a part of the official team photo. It was reported by the Herald Sun that South Australia didn’t find out until seconds before the game. Unfortunately it didn’t work however as South Australia ended up winning the game!

 

He was seen as one of Kevin Sheedy’s favourites; the coach found him to be a hard worker, a team man and easy to coach. According to Russell Holmesby and Jim Main in The Encyclopaedia of AFL Footballers, ‘Sheedy thought so highly of him that he smuggled Heard into Adelaide unannounced for a state match.’ Sheedy confirmed that he was one of his favourites at a speaking gig in Moyston in 2008. One of the things he said was, “Shane Heard was one of the easiest-to-coach players I had in my time at Essendon…You would give him 100 out of 100 for getting the best out of himself; not 99, but 100.” He also has placed Heard in an elite group narrowly behind James Hird, Terry Daniher and Gary O’Donnell as the hardest working players he had coached.

 

When it seemed like he was at the peak of his powers as the best tagger in the competition, Shane decided to retire at the end of the 1987 season. He headed back to Horsham to play his football. While back in Horsham he played for the Horsham football club, a team he and his family would go and watch when he was a kid. He played three years for Horsham before being convinced to return to VFL/AFL football by Kevin Sheedy at the beginning of the 1991 season. According to Holmesby and Main: “In that ’91 season Heard played a solid year for the Bombers in 91 until getting injured in the Elimination Final.” That’s when he decided to retire for good.

 

After retiring from League football he moved to Canberra to play for a couple of years (92, 93), for Ainslie and was a part of premierships in both those years. After playing football in Canberra he wanted to get back onto the land. His Dad being always being involved in the stock side of things and owned a stock transport business. So farming and wool and counry life had always been very much part of him. He sold some Real Estate he had in Melbourne and bought a property in Miga Lake (40 minutes away from Horsham) where he became involved in the sheep and cattle industries. He also did some cropping but that was more to feed his own sheep. He brought over the Merino Urials and Border Leicester Lambs for first cross lambs and sold the Urials and the wether portions of the Merino lambs. This was while keeping the Merino Urials to shear and to make use of the wool.

 

After having the property in Miga Lake for 13 years, he decided to sell the property and buy a couple of 100 acre blocks just outside of Horsham, close to where he lives. While on this land he dabbled in a handful of cross-bred sheep. He spent a couple of years on this block until he started casual work at Grain Corp. He has worked for Grain Corp for the last eight years.

 

Shane Heard’s career with the Bombers spanned 11 years (1977-87, then 91), saw him win a Premiership in 1984 and become one of the best taggers in the competition. While playing for the Bombers not only was he was seen one of Sheedy’s favourites and respected by his team mates due to his pace, work ethic and being team-orientated.

 

He is a worthy member of the Ultimate Victorian Wool team.

 

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About Nick Weidmann

Former Honours student in Journalism at the University of Tasmania and passionate Essendon supporter

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