SHANE Lenon doesn't believe in doing anything half-baked. He played about 500 matches and is still coaching after almost 20 years. The Border Mail's BRETT KOHLHAGEN spoke to the country footballing legend this week.
BRETT KOHLHAGEN: Even though you are best known in the Riverina and Farrer leagues, you won best and fairests at Myrtleford and North Albury in the 1990s. How did you first find your way to the Ovens and Murray?
SHANE LENON: It was through Tommy Carroll and Martin Cross. Tommy was a junior coach of mine at Ganmain-Grong Grong-Matong and probably the best junior coach I had. I had a good year at Ganmain in 1992 and they spoke and things went from there. The next year I was at Myrtleford playing under Martin Cross.
BK: You just had the one year there didn't you?
SL: I enjoyed it but 'Crossy' went to North Albury the next season and I followed him with one or two other players. It was hard leaving Myrtleford, particularly after only one year but it was a bit closer to home as well.
BK: Myrtleford looked after you then?
SL: They were a good footy club with some tough footballers. I'll never forget the round-one game against Benalla. Big 'Mamba' (Mathew Crisp) used to protect me pretty well. I was going alright this day and had three goals and about 25 touches in the first half. Anyway, a bloke cleaned me up with an elbow just after half-time and by the time I got up 'Mamba' had him on the ground. The Benalla bloke got reported and we went to the tribunal and he got four weeks. I told him after the hearing that I tried to look after him but he just looked at me and said: 'Mate, I'm not worried about the four weeks, I'm just lucky I survived Mathew Crisp because I thought he was going to kill me.' The Crisps and blokes like Brendan Breen were bloody tough and all good blokes.
BK: Then you had two years at North Albury?
SL: Yep, we made the finals one year and might have just missed the other. The Ovens and Murray was the strongest league I played in, clearly. I'm glad I played down there.
BK: Winning two best and fairest in three seasons in the Ovens and Murray was a huge effort, especially considering you battled some serious demons with alcohol just a couple of years earlier. How did you turn your life around?
SK: At the end of 1991 I gave the grog up after we won a flag at Ganmain. That was the last drink I ever had.
BK: So you just stopped drinking after a few days with your teammates?
SK: It was more like a 10-day bender. Giving it up was the best decision I've ever made. I had an issue with the drink, there is no doubt about it. It was ruining my life. I got a bit of help, wanted to give it up and just knew my life was going nowhere with it. It was effecting my footy and relationships and had taken over my life.
I'll be honest with you, I'm not on Facebook or any other social media. I hear about it, but to me it's old news. Those speeches are from grand finals and if you can't get pumped up for grand finals you shouldn't be involved.
BK: How hard was giving up alcohol at 21?
SK: It was pretty hard early days but after two or three months it became easier. I just put all my energies into footy. I owe footy a lot because it helped my recovery.
BK: Is it hard not having a beer after your team wins a premiership?
SK Not now. I can get in a shout and just drink soft drink. I don't begrudge blokes having a beer at all but it can bring you undone if it gets hold of you. I've been able to help young blokes because of my experiences which has been good. They seem to feel like they can come to me for a chat if they have issues. It's been very rewarding seeing young blokes get their lives sorted out.
BK: You're an emotional person and football coach which is well documented on Facebook with some of your grand final speeches at Ganmain, Collingullie and Marrar. What have you made of all that?
SK: I'll be honest with you, I'm not on Facebook or any other social media. I hear about it, but to me it's old news. Those speeches are from grand finals and if you can't get pumped up for grand finals you shouldn't be involved. It's done and dusted for mine but if people enjoy them then that's good.
BK: How is your blood pressure after those addresses?
SK: I'm passionate. The coach's responsibility is making sure the players are right to go.
BK: Talking about coaching, you started at Lockhart in 1997 and are still going strongly at Marrar. I can't think of too many who have lasted longer than that.
SL: 20 years is a long time. I've learnt a lot since I started. I was pretty intense and full on when I started I suppose. I'd like to think I'm a better coach now. When I started coaching I knew I could get them fit and I knew I could get a kick and I hoped the rest would fall into place.
BK: It took you six years to get your first premiership as a coach but you've had a fantastic run since then winning flags at Ganmain, Collingullie and Marrar. What is your record now?
SL: I've coached in 12 grand finals and been premiers in nine of them. Also made it to four preliminary finals as well. I've been lucky enough to only miss the finals twice but in saying that I've always believed that if you give it your best shot, you've already won.
BK: What's the hardest decision you've had to make as a coach?
SL: There have been a few, but dropping my nephew Justin Evans for a grand final at Collingullie would be the hardest . He played every single game and we won the second semi-final by 50 points to go straight in. 'Weana' (Shaun) Bradley was out injured and he had to come in. You have to do what is right by the playing group and the club. 'Jup' took it well, better than I did to be honest. He's a ripping kid. To make it worse for him, he played in the reserves grand final and they lost while we won by 100 points. My sister and brother-in-law still remind me about it.
BK: Out of the nine flags as coach, does one stand out?
SL: 2014 at Collingullie. It was the club's first flag in the RFL after we'd lost the previous two. We had been bagged for wanting to cross from the Farrer league as people didn't think we would be competitive. They didn't have a clue. We were always going to be competitive and the club made the decision for its future which has benefited the RFL and even helped the Farrer league. It was a no-brainer and the win was sweet. We were 38 points down halfway through the second quarter with no bench and won by 13. Matt Kennedy and Harry Perryman played in that side.
BK: You played about 500 matches. Who is the best player you've seen?
SL: Brad Aiken is the best I've coached. He was a damaging left-footer and I put a lot on playing well in finals and grand finals and he did that. Brandon Ryan and Christen McPherson were good at Ganmain and John Lawton was a tough competitor who performed well in big games.Chris Gow pound for pound was as tough as I saw and an inspirational captain. Chris Gordon was also a very gifted player. In the Ovens and Murray there were a heap of them. Robbie Walker was a champion.
BK: You weren't bad yourself. I'm told you won 10 club best and fairests and four league medals?
SL: That sounds about right. I was lucky enough to win at least one best and fairest at each club I played for.
BK: You were a good lawn bowler and now cycling is your other sporting interest outside of football. How did you get into that?
SL: I got my knee operated on late in my career and the physio suggested it for rehab so I bought myself a cheap bike. I think I was 38. Then when I gave up footy, I got more into it and now I love it. Before a game I'll go for a long ride to get some fresh air and clear my head. I'd say I do 300 kilometres a week.
BK: The John Woodman Memorial Classic is a big event in Albury and you finished third in 2017.
SL: That's my best result with it being a state event and everything. I was pretty happy with that.
BK: You have coached women's football for the past three years.
SL: My youngest daughter Erin asked me to coach and I ummed and aahed and didn't think it was for me, but I did it and have loved it. If you had said to me when it came out that I would be involved I would have laughed.
BK: Can you see improvement in the skills?
SL: It's just got better every year. They probably listen and put things into practice better than the blokes. We've just got to work on the kicking and in five years time I reckon it will be much better because the girls are starting younger. Griffith's Abby Favell is the best player I've seen up here.
BK: You work at the Riverina Juvenile Justice Centre in Wagga. Sounds like a challenging job?
SL: I've been there for 12 years and it's great. I'm a programs officer and do the weights programs, fitness programs and sporting programs. A lot of the things the boys do in there I do with them. You get a chance to build a rapport with them which is satisfying.
BK: I'm sure it would have its challenges?
BK: It must have been a big change after previously working for the AFL-NSW?
SL: It's very different. At the end of the day it just wasn't for me as it involved a lot of working away from home which was difficult with a young family at the time. Working for the AFL they don't allow you to coach either.
BK: I wouldn't rule you out of coaching at 60?
SL: Probably not, but you never know. I've been lucky my wife, Tammy, and daughters Hannah, Amber and Erin have been very supportive or it just wouldn't work.
BK: Finally, you have coached hundreds of players. Has one moment just stopped you in your tracks?
SL: Lockhart were playing Howlong at Howlong and their supporters were pretty full on. They were giving it to Dean Glanvill all day and halfway through the last quarter when we were three or four goals up a bloke threw a half full can of beer out towards him on the ground. Old 'Granny' (Glanvill) picked it up, polished the beer off, walked over and gave it back to the bloke and said: "Thanks mate, I was thirsty. I needed that'.