2023 Queensland Football Hall of Fame – Gary Shaw

As a youngster Gary Shaw would wait out on the ground at Chelmer whenever Western Districts played at home through the 1970s. As the team ran out and came towards him he’d kick his footy to Owen Backwell, and the home team star would kick it back to him. It was more than 50 years ago, but it seems like only yesterday.

At the quarter-time and three-time breaks the young hopeful would rush out to the huddle and stand near the champion No.7, watching and listening to everything. “It was the biggest thrill of my life every week … he was my idol,” Shaw recounted.

“I used to love guys like Ossie (Backwell), Don Smith and Barry Clarke … I worshipped them growing up. They were great players and great people who always had time for little kids like me.”

It’s a beautiful reflection from one of the stars of Queensland football, a humble, homegrown product and one of the really nice guys who sadly wears the scars of a 38-game AFL career crucified by injury which he describes as a ‘failure’.

He’s wrong. So wrong. The football ‘market’ said so. Because 40 years ago, when he joined Collingwood from WAFL club Claremont, he was the hottest young prospect in the country. A blindingly quick and skilful rover, with a freakish spring and courage that bordered on crazy. The Pies paid a record $320,000 transfer fee. A lot of money back then.

He played 32 games with the Collingwood in 1983-84 and 1986, missing the entire 1985 AFL season with recurring a groin injury, and six games with the Brisbane Bears in 1987 before injury finally got the better of him. At 28 the game he loved so much as a kid had seen the last of him at elite level.

That he went on to play and later coach at lower levels was proof of his love for the game and at least some consolation. But it didn’t go half way to making up for the angst he felt when he told Peter Knights “I’m done” 12 rounds into a three-year contract, rejecting a promise from the club’s inaugural Bears of better things to come.

Shaw was an early victim of the media histrionics and public pressure that strangles the modern game, with a generous extra dose of Magpie-mania because he played at Collingwood. It’s not what he signed up for when he joined Sherwood and Wests not long after he could walk.

With sister Leanne and brother Graham, who also represented Queensland at junior level, he grew up in a football-loving family with father Alan, a great Wests centreman who knocked up putting the ball down Ray Hughson’s throat at full forward, and mother Merle. He enjoyed a junior career at Sherwood that is incomprehensible. He played two years in the Under 9s and every age group thereafter to Under-17s and never lost a game. Ever. “We had blokes who were shaving at 13 and were forever being asked for their birth certificates,” he said with a laugh.

Shaw was special from a young age. So special that after he was considered too small for the Queensland Under 15 side in 1974 he trialled for the Under 17s (Teal Cup) side. And not only was he selected he was the State’s most outstanding player at the national carnival – at 15. He played seniors at Wests from 1977-80, represented Queensland at senior level, and had a six-week training stint at Richmond in their premiership year of 1980.

“Tony Jewell was coach. One day we walked across the railway line from Punt Road for a practice match. I was playing on Mick Malthouse and at the first bounce there was an all-in brawl. We’d train from 5pm to 9pm and then I sleep for the next two days,” he said.

The Tigers were well-stocked for rovers, notably Dale Weightman and Barry Rowlings, and when nothing eventuated Shaw was approached by Claremont via long-time club stalwart Wally Maskiell. He was originally looking at Wests’ Grogan Medallist Peter Taylor but when Taylor said ‘no’ they turned their attention to Shaw. “I spoke to Dad and he said “you should go” so I packed up my Holden Gemini and drove across the country.”

He joined a Claremont side that included Phil and Jimmy Krakouer, Brownlow Medallist Graham Moss and Steve Malaxos. He was a premiership player in his first season and shared the Simpson Medal as best afield in the grand final with South Fremantle’s Maurice Rioli.

The grand final is still regarded as one of the greatest games in WA football history. A crowd of 50,517 at Subiaco Oval saw Claremont win by 15 points after being down at three-quarter time. “It was the most ferocious opening you can imagine … from the first bounce the ruckmen smashed into each other and it was on. I was playing on Brad Hardie and we were as skinny as each other so we just kept out of the way,” Shaw recalled.

In 1982 he was even better. He starred for WA against Victoria, won the Claremont best & fairest and was a narrow runner-up in the WAFL’s Sandover Medal, won by Phil Narkle. That despite missing a game after being ko’d at training one night by teammate Warren Ralph. He crashed into Ralph’s knee and woke up in hospital after a rushed ambulance ride. It was massive news. “Shaw rushed to hospital” splashed the TV.

In an era in which each VFL club was permitted one “Form Four’ each year for interstate recruits, he was signed by Collingwood. He was pegged as a saviour of the club that had finished 2nd-3rd-2nd-2nd-2nd from 1977-81 under Tom Hafey and then sacked him after a 1-9 start in 1982. They’d finished 10th at 4-18 under caretaker coach Mick Erwin and appointed South Australian Jack Cahill as coach.

They’d also recruited David Cloke and Geoff Raines from Richmond, Shane Morwood from Sydney and had three highly-rated interstaters in Shaw, Greg Phillips and Mike Richardson, but had lost captain and Brownlow Medallist Peter Moore to Melbourne. Mark Williams was the new skipper.

All of 173cm and 73kg, Shaw debuted in Round 1 against Melbourne at the MCG in front of 72,274 people. Moore and Kelvin Templeton, 1980 Brownlow Medallist and Footscray captain in 1982, played their first game for the Demons. Phillip Walsh and Richardson debuted for the Pies.

It was a cracker. Collingwood trailed at every change but won 20-15 (135) to 10-11 (125). The 24-year-old Queenslander, second rover to Tony Shaw, had 14 possessions and kicked two goals.

The Pies lost their next four but Shaw did well … 23 and two, 21 and one, 18 and three and 27 and one. He’d kicked nine goals and averaged 21 possessions in five games. He followed with 16 possessions in a Round 6 win before a shin stress fracture kept him out until Round 22, when he had 17 possessions in a win but the Pies missed the finals by a game.

In 1984 Shaw had 25 possessions in Round 1 and was injured in Round 2. He returned in Round 9 and played 17 games in a row, including three finals in front of 70,000-plus. He’d averaged 18.9 possessions, seventh best for the club, with 10 games of 20-plus, and kicked 21 goals. And he picked up two Brownlow votes for 23 possessions and five goals at the MCG against North in Round 16.

After missing the entire 1985 AFL season his first AFL game back was Round 4 1986 when Leigh Matthews coached the Pies for the first time after Bob Rose had stepped down. Shaw played Rounds 4-5-6-7-8 and all of a sudden it was over. He dislocated his shoulder at training the following week and didn’t play again.

In hindsight Shaw remembered some parting words from WA football legend Barry Cable as he headed from Perth to Collingwood … don’t let them get you too big, he’d told him. And that’s exactly what happened. Collingwood worked him over-time in the gym and while he got bigger and stronger he lost pace and spring. His two greatest attributes.

Offered to the Bears via a Foundation Draft in which each club had to supply three players, he signed a three-year contract with his ‘home’ club and was reunited with ex-Pies teammates Williams, Raines, Walsh and Richardson, and Hardie, his WAFL grand final opponent. He would have played in the Round 1 win over North but for injury, and wore the #29 jumper in Round 2 against Geelong at Kardinia Park. The club had a 19-point win but he was injured. He returned to play Rounds 8-9-10-11-12 before his back gave way. He was done.

Post-AFL he was playing-coach at Noosa in 1988-89 and in ’90 he coached Coolamon in the Riverina, where he reconnected with Barb and the now late Kevin Oakman who had billeted him with the Queensland Primary Schools side at 13. He met their kids Rod and Gary. Great people, he said. Great football memories.

In 1992-93 he coached West Brisbane, a by-product of his junior and senior clubs in Brisbane, and in 1994 he joined ex-Carlton legend Wayne Johnston at Kedron-Grange, coaching the reserves and helping with the seniors. Captained by Dean Warren, they lost an epic grand final to Morningside.

Later Shaw went back to where it all began as assistant coach of the Under 18s at Sherwood, helping them to a grand final win at the Gabba. And he spotted a player in the Under 16s who could have been anything but for recurring knee problems – Lions draftee Patrick Garner. “You’ve got to have a bit of luck don’t you .. Patty didn’t have any. He was as good a junior as I’ve seen.” .

Now 64, Shaw and Deb, wife of 35 years, have a daughter Breeanna, who with husband and Collingwood tragic Chris have given him two grandchildren – Ari (4) and Gia (1). Since 2015 they’ve lived at Noosa, where he works as a delivery driver for “the best fruit and vegies joint at the Tewantin Markets Gardens.”  

That is Gary Shaw in a nutshell. Still with a tight-knit crop of curls, albeit a little grey, he’s only an occasional football watcher these days. He enjoys the anonymity of Noosa, loves fishing, golf and bowls, and is a rarity in the modern era – he has never sent a text message or an email.  And having not worn long pants since Breeanna’s wedding in 2010, he’s wondering now where he’ll get a pair for the Hall of Fame function. Yep, that’s Shawry!

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