He began his football journey kicking dribble kicks up and down driveways in Port Lincoln as he walked to school with his brother Peter.
He was just 11 when he played alongside Peter (who played with Shaun in the 2004 premiership in his 240-game career with Port Adelaide) in an under-17s premiership with Mallee Park, an Indigenous club in Port Lincoln that has spawned the Burgoynes, Byron Pickett, Eddie Betts and Graham Johncock. “We just lived and breathed [football], to be honest,” Burgoyne said.
He played his first AFL game on April 14, 2002, before five of his Hawthorn teammates were born. Denver Grainger-Barras, who made his debut last Sunday, was born just three days later and his coach Alastair Clarkson was still coaching Central District in the SANFL. Since then Burgoyne has played an average of 20 games a season for 20 years, switching clubs and states at the end of 2009 with a knee the Hawks’ doctor Peter Baquie could only guarantee would stay sound for three seasons.
He had to work hard to build endurance while displaying the skills that earned him the nickname “Silk” and the mental toughness to play everywhere but the ruck. His legend is built around his capacity to influence outcomes, whether at stoppages, or when a key goal needs to be kicked, as in the last quarter of the 2013 preliminary final, when he put the Hawks in front of Geelong with six minutes remaining and the Kennett curse was finally crushed.
A key part of Hawthorn’s community program, he is on the AFL’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Advisory Council and the AFLPA’s Indigenous Advisory Board. He also started ASC Indigenous, a cleaning and waste management company.
“Creating employment opportunities for Indigenous people and helping lives is obviously something close to my heart and I am passionate about it,” Burgoyne said.
Then there is family, wife Amy and four children Nixie, Leni, Ky and Percy, which remain at the heart of his being.
“Amy is the reason why I’m still playing footy and why I came to Hawthorn. Why I am still going,” Burgoyne said.
A famous export
Burgoyne’s father Peter snr was a good local footballer with Tasman in the Port Lincoln Football League winning two Mail Medals for league best and fairest in the 1970s and playing with Port Adelaide and in the Northern Territory for St Mary’s.
Burgoyne loved being part of the Indigenous community in town growing up playing football, camping, fishing and, in his words, “hanging out”. Much of that time was spent with Johncock, who made his debut with Adelaide a fortnight before Burgoyne and retired eight years ago after 227 games.
“We would go camping at a place called Sheringa, towards Ceduna, sometimes up behind Ceduna,” Burgoyne said.
On his debut
“There are a lot of players I feel lucky to have played with or against in my career. I have a tape from Port Adelaide and every now and again I chuck it back on to see what footy was like in the early 2000s,” Burgoyne said.
His debut against St Kilda came in round three, 2002, more than a year after he was drafted. The game featured three future senior coaches, a future AFLW coach, four assistant coaches and a list manager. Nick Riewoldt, who was playing his ninth game, was born four days earlier than Burgoyne. in 2017, Riewoldt became the last of the other 43 who played that day to retire.
Former Port Adelaide teammates remember Burgoyne languishing at the back during runs in his first pre-season but as soon as the footballs came out they knew they had a star of the future.
“I don’t know why I never had endurance. I always had to work hard on that side of things. I was always fast and had explosive speed and my brother Peter had a mixture of both endurance and speed,” Burgoyne said.
“I was always at the back of training. I used to get yelled at a lot but the feedback you got then was a lot different to the feedback you get today. Today you don’t really get harsh feedback. Sometimes when they get feedback these days they think it is hard but I am like ‘you probably don’t know what hard feedback is’.
“At that the time it was (hard to take). Looking back now it is exactly what I needed and I deserved. I was getting by on pure skill.”
Burgoyne laughs hard at his last sentence, uncomfortable in admitting what was obvious to everyone who saw him play.
Andrew Russell, who is now at Carlton after being alongside Burgoyne at Port and Hawthorn, was a driving force, while senior players at the club, such as Burgoyne’s favourite player, Gavin Wanganeen, as well as Matthew Primus, Brent Montgomery, Warren Tredrea and Michael Wilson helped him build a foundation for success.
“I came into a team that were very focused but had a good blend between having a few beers and training hard,” Burgoyne said.
400 games, two coaches
“There are a lot of similarities between ‘Choco’ (Mark Williams at Port Adelaide) and Clarko (Alastair Clarkson at Hawthorn). They are both very passionate, very vocal and very driven,” Burgoyne said.
“I like their no-fuss approach, straight in your face and tell it how it is. I don’t like it when people beat around the bush. Just say it.
“Both Choco and Clarko have been straight down the line and ferocious when they needed to be but there is a good lighter side to both those guys.
‘I don’t like it when people beat around the bush. Just say it.’
The presence of Clarkson, Russell, Geoff Morris and Chris Pelchen – all Port alumni – at Hawthorn helped Burgoyne choose the Hawks when he left Port Adelaide at the end of 2009.
With less than a minute remaining in an epic 2004 preliminary final against St Kilda, Port Adelaide led by a goal as they attempted to win their way into their first AFL grand final, having been eliminated at that stage the previous two seasons.
A kick from St Kilda’s Riewoldt cleared a pack and Brent Guerra – who later played alongside Burgoyne in Hawthorn’s 2013 premiership team – ran on to the loose ball in the goal square and tried to soccer it through. Burgoyne threw himself on the ball and pushed it out of bounds.
“It would be a free kick today,” he said. “I was cramping in both my calves and could not run but somehow managed to smother that. We had so much pressure on us after choking the year before and if we didn’t win that I don’t know what was going to happen.”
Burgoyne kicked the final goal of the 2007 grand final to bring the losing margin back to 119 points.
“It was a really hollow feeling. We did really well to get to that game and just didn’t perform and we had a shocking day, to be honest, an embarrassing day but I was still proud of our club for getting there, putting ourselves on the line and having a crack. Geelong were just outstanding,” Burgoyne said.
Geelong had recorded 11 consecutive wins against Hawthorn after the 2008 grand final defeat and kicked the final three goals of the third quarter in the 2013 preliminary final to head into the last break 20 points ahead of Hawthorn, which had lost the 2011 preliminary final by three points and the 2012 grand final by 10 points.
“I can remember people saying we have nothing to lose, we have to take the game on and then other guys saying we don’t have to win the game in the first minute, we have a quarter to peg back three goals,” Burgoyne said of three-quarter-time discussions.
“It was a strange one because it felt like we were going to win.”
Late in the last quarter Burgoyne won a one-on-one against Andrew Mackie then handballed to Jack Gunston who kicked a goal to bring the Hawks within five points before Gunston returned the favour and Burgoyne on a tight angle, and under extreme pressure, kicked straight on the run to give his team the lead.
“I have probably kicked a few goals that were more exciting but in terms of importance that was probably the one,” Burgoyne said.
Hawthorn won the next three flags.
Still the same
Only Michael Tuck, with 39 finals, has played in more finals than Burgoyne, who has had 20 wins and 15 losses in 35 finals, winning four flags, losing two grand finals and three preliminary finals along the way as well as being part of Hawthorn’s straight-sets exits in 2016 and 2018.
He says reviewing those games is critical.
“Face the music. If you are losing you need to know why you have lost and if you have won you want to know why you have won because you want to replicate that.”
Secrets of success
Burgoyne had 18 clearances in a match against Collingwood in 2008 and is renowned as an extractor who could run out the front of a stoppage. He says connection between the ruckman and his midfielders is the key, as he credits the role of Port ruckmen Primus, Brendon Lade and Dean Brogan in his early development.
“They could hit it anywhere and would just say ‘get there and you will love me’,” Burgoyne says with a laugh. “I also used to hit those contests as fast as I could.”
He still does, after spending more than half his life playing AFL.