By Beth Newman
In the days following Morningside’s QAFL grand final win, Paul Shelton struggled to sleep.
The 30 year-old was savouring the side’s undefeated run to the premiership, but wrestling with a bigger decision as well, whether to call time on his football career.
Having a third premiership under his belt, his first as a captain, didn’t ease Shelton’s dilemma.
Not wanting to see a repeat of 2011, when the Panthers lost a swathe of experience, claiming their first wooden spoon the following season, Shelton opted to pull the pin, along with Josh Brown and Hayden Wilson, beginning a transition into a new era for the Panthers.
“It was the right decision right for me right for my family and right for the football club.
“I don’t want 10 blokes all retiring at the same time.”
The decision ends a Panthers career that began as a four year-old alongside fellow 2014 premiership player, Hayden Wilson, and ended with an emotional speech at Saturday’s best and fairest.
Speaking for almost half an hour, Shelton relished the opportunity to articulate his gratitude to a long list of people involved at the Panthers, and he was typically frank when discussing the speech.
“When you’re involved with a footy club for so long, there are so many people you need to thank,” he said.
“I just thought, they’ll just have to sit there and listen.”
Shelton was reduced to tears for much of that speech, defying his combative nature on the football field, and reflective of the weight of the decision and the significant role of the footy club in his life.
His announcement came as a shock to many, but Shelton said those who mattered most, with his parents and wife, Sheree, in attendance, understood.
“Some people were very surprised…but they don’t know what goes on behind closed doors with training and my lifestyle and all that sort of stuff,” he said.
“I don’t walk around all year telling people what I’ve got going on.
“The people who are really close to me understand where I’m at.”
With a reputation of demanding high standards of himself and others, Shelton said he couldn’t reconcile the idea of continuing to play if he reduced his commitment.
“Different people have said, ‘you can train one night a week and we’ll be right, you don’t have to stress,’ but it’s not about whether I have the time,” he said.
“If you’re not doing three nights a week and extras, there’s no point.
“I can’t dish up terrible performances based on the back of not training enough and that was the main (reason).
Shelton’s passion for the club at which he has spent most of his life, let alone his football career, and discussing the legacy he hopes to leave behind, it’s that high expectation that comes to the fore.
“I hope I’ve (been) able to make sure that our standards are so high in every single training session every single game and every single involvement with the club,” he said.
“Morningside has a very rich history and I wanted to make sure that history is adhered to and the standards are kept up so we can be successful.”
“Sometimes that makes you a good guy and sometimes it makes you a bad guy, but as long as we get the results, that was the main thing.”
It was a choice Shelton said was in his interests, but also made with one eye on the fturue development of the club.
His three premierships, over 127 games at the Panthers, rate high on his highlights list, but it’s those who he has shared the journey with that have been most significant.
“Being able to have my son around this year, in the rooms and at games, just to have him there – it’s got nothing to do with football, but that’s been a real highlight,” he said.
After a fairytale 2014, ending with a runner-up finish in the Panthers’ best and fairest, Shelton said he felt he had nothing left to accomplish.
“I didn’t have anything else to achieve by playing one more or two more years,” he said.
“Kent (abey) has the ability to be games record holder, which is fantastic for him.”
A highly decorated representative player, captaining NEAFL and Queensland sides through his career ,Shelton is highly respected by both opponents and teammates, with a commanding presence on and off the football field.
Morningside coach and long-time friend of Shelton, David Lake, was one of the few who knew of Shelton’s decision ahead of Saturday’s presentation night, with the moment shared over a quiet beer last Tuesday night.
Lake wasn’t tempted to change the mind of Shelton, likely a futile mission given Shelton’s steadfastness in ever y aspect of his personality.
“he trains harder than anybody and demands excellence.
“He knows his strengths and weaknesses, but that doesn’t stop him from working his hardest.
“Some blokes when they train and someone runs faster they won’t run.
“He’s still running, hoping one day he’s going to win it.”
Lake said Shelton’s retirement would leave a gaping hole in the Panthers, but looks forward to seeing who can fill it.
“Nugget filled the room that’s who he is,” he said.
“He’s very intense and very complete .
“Others have grown from being around him and now, they get their turn.”