SHANNON GILSON was a talented junior who played representative football before making his debut for Albury as a 16-year-old. The super fit midfielder won a flag with North Albury and had stints locally in the bush with Culcairn, Thurgoona, Corryong and Murray Magpies. Gilson caught-up with The Border Mail's BRENT GODDE
BRENT GODDE: You are well-known for your nickname 'Ronnie'?
SHANNON GILSON: Dad would ask me to do something as a kid and my usual reply would be later on. So I got the nickname 'Ronnie' at a young age and it has stuck ever since.
BG: You played all your junior football at Albury sportsground?
SG: I started off in the juniors with a couple of good mates in Graham Fruean and Paul Wood and we basically went through all the junior grades together.
BG: Your father Pat was among your junior coaches?
SG: Dad coached us to a couple of flags in the juniors.
BG: You made your senior debut for Albury as a 16-year-old under coach Paul Spargo?
SG: It was a forgettable debut, that's for sure.
BG: You spent most of the day sitting on the pine?
SG: I spent the first-half on the bench and came on early in the third-quarter against Wodonga. Bulldog coach Darren Denneman took a mark and I got pinged for holding him too long and gave away a 50m penalty.
BG: Spargo dragged you immediately?
SG: I would have been on the ground less than two minutes and spent the rest of the match on the bench.
BG: You spent a large amount of your early senior career warming the pine?
SG: Probably my first 30 matches I didn't get much game time at all. It was rare back in that era if you were picked on the bench to get onto the ground in the first-half unless somebody got injured.
BG: How did you rate Spargo as a coach?
SG: Paul's coaching record speaks for itself. Being so young at the time, I probably didn't appreciate how good a coach he was and that I was fortunate enough to play under him.
BG: It took you a while to establish yourself as a senior regular?
SG: I can't remember the exact years but I played in two reserve grade grand finals at Albury early on in my career.
BG: You also played a lot of representative school football?
SG: I was lucky enough to play a bit of representative football.
BG: The mid 1990s proved to be a golden era for the Tigers after capturing a hat-trick of flags from 1995-97?
SG: From memory I played about 15 senior matches in 1995 but didn't play finals. I played in the winning reserves grand final which was still a great experience.
BG: You also got asked to play in the Murray Bushrangers which was in its infancy back then?
SG: I weighed up my options and after talking to Albury and my parents decided against playing Bushrangers. These days you wouldn't even contemplate doing that if given the opportunity.
BG: Do you regret your decision?
SG: Not really, I thought I was starting to establish myself as a senior regular at Albury and the lure of playing in a senior flag was hard to ignore.
BG: In 1997 you enjoyed a breakout season to become a permanent senior player in the powerful Tigers' outfit striving for three flags in-a-row?
SG: I remember I had to tag Simon Bone in the first final we played and was fairly happy with the job I did on him.
BG: The Tigers took the direct route into the decider?
SG: I remember on the Saturday morning having a team breakfast down at the sportsground with the grand final the following day.
BG: You were picked on the half-forward flank on the Thursday night at selection?
SG: I remember thinking to myself that if I was picked on the flank that I wouldn't have to tag Bone again which took a bit of pressure off me.
BG: Tiger chairman of selectors Mark Turner asked for a quick chat with you at the team breakfast on the Saturday morning?
SG: Mark called me over and I thought he might tell me that I would be tagging Bone again.
BG: Instead, Turner dropped a bombshell?
SG: I'll admit that I didn't see it coming but Mark said 'We've decided to drop you. 'Micki' Buchanan has made himself available.'
BG: Buchanan had missed most of the second-half of the season with a knee injury?
SG: That's why I was a bit dumbfounded with the decision, I had no idea he was thinking of playing again that season.
BG: Were you fuming at the time?
SG: I was disappointed but I wouldn't say fuming. I was still only a kid at the time and was able to play in the reserves grand final.
BG: How did you find Buchanan as a coach?
SG: 'Micki' was good for my development but had a different style to Spargo. He was one of the boys but also had the respect of the players and led by example on the field.
BG: If you had your time again, you would do things differently?
SG: Looking back I probably should have spent more time playing thirds than sitting on the bench in the seniors. My advice to kids coming through the ranks is it's not a race to be the first to play senior football. You don't get underage footy back.
BG: At the end of 1997 you were on the recruiting radar of Belconnen?
SG: Belconnen were keen to sign me and came down to watch the grand final where I obviously played in the reserves.
BG: At the end of 1999 you switched clubs and joined North Albury?
SG: The Hoppers had recruited Craig Parsons who I played representative football with. He lived with my parents and I for a while when he first moved to town.
BG: You decided to accompany Parsons to his first training run at Bunton Park?
SG: Being new to town I said I would walk Craig into Bunton Park because I knew a few of the Hopper players like Phil Maunder who was a couple of years above me at school.
BG: You decided to play for North Albury?
SG: It was funny at the time, I basically walked in there with Craig and the next thing I know I had decided to join the Hoppers.
BG: Ernie Whitehead was the coach of the Hoppers?
SG: Once again I was really fortunate to have another high-profile coach in Ernie.
BG: You were amazed how much effort Whitehead put into coaching?
SG: It seemed every time I went to the club, Ernie would be there and he put in a lot of extra time and effort into the role.
BG: Whitehead raised the professionalism at Bunton Park?
SG: Like all clubs we trained three times a week. But there were extra running sessions, swimming sessions and weight training sessions which were available to all the playing group.
BG: The Hoppers boasted a star-studded side under Whitehead?
SG: It had the nucleus of a good side with players the calibre of Corey Lambert, Simon McCormick, Brent Piltz, Craig Parsons, Mark Bush, Jason McInnes and Simon Kenny.
BG: The Hoppers got off to a sluggish start in 2000?
SG: My memory is not the best but I think we only won one or two of our first half-a-dozen matches. We were in most matches but just couldn't find a way to win.
BG: A team meeting sparked a turnaround in the club's fortunes?
SG: We got told a few home truths and that blokes were playing as individuals, rather than as a team. After that we got on a roll and hardly lost a match for the remainder of the season.
BG: You also had a mid-season bonding trip?
SG: I remember heading up to the snow with all the boys one weekend for a bit of a getaway.
BG: What was it like facing your former side in Albury?
SG: There were no hard feelings from either party. I used to play on Jason McFarlane and enjoyed the challenge. I had a lot of good mates at the club and still do today.
BG: The Hoppers faced Corowa-Rutherglen in the grand final and you decided to bleach your hair peroxide blonde in the lead-up.
SG: I was a bit young and dumb and looking back not my proudest moment. There were a few of the younger players that decided to go with different coloured hair.
BG: What are your memories of the grand final?
SG: I think being so young, I didn't feel the pressure of the occasion. But as you get older you are expected to perform and there is a lot more pressure on you.
BG: Who did you have the match-up on?
SG: I played on Glenn Joyce who was an elite runner and hard to keep up with.
BG: The Hoppers got blown away by a rampant Roos' outfit in one of the heftiest grand final defeats in league history?
SG: They were the standout side all season and certainly came to play in the big dance to win by more than 100 points.
BG: A lot of good judges rate Corowa's side among the greatest in league history?
SG: It's certainly right up there in my opinion.
BG: The Roos' incredible depth was one of their biggest assets?
SG: They had blokes playing pockets that would walk into any other side's midfield. Blokes like David Willet who was an elite midfielder but was sitting in a forward pocket.
BG: Houlihan was the chief destroyer with 10 goals?
SG: I'm glad I didn't have to play on him because nobody could lay a finger on him that day. I still remember Houliahan running off early in the last quarter holding up his 10 fingers to the crowd. It was party time for the Roos.
BG: You rate Simon McCormick as one of the best players you have ever seen in the O&M?
SG: Simon was unbelievable in one-on-one contests and would always win the ball. I remember one match he couldn't run, so he played forward. I lost count how many marks he took as a forward.
BG: In 2002, Lambert replaced Whitehead as coach at Bunton Park?
SG: For whatever reason, I thought we underachieved in 2001. I'm not sure if there was a bit of a hangover from making the grand final the previous year and putting in all the work and not getting the reward.
BG: Lambert raised the bar as far as training was concerned when he took over?
SG: I thought we trained hard under Ernie but the intensity certainly went up a few more notches under Corey.
BG: How did you find Lambert as coach?
SG: Probably the thing that stuck out the most was that Corey was a competitive beast. Even in a game of darts, Corey would still do his utmost to win.
BG: There were some gruelling training sessions under Lambert?
SG: One in particular was brutal that I'll never forget.
BG: Talk us through it.
SG: It started off with the beep test, followed by a 5km time trial. Then it was two hours of ball work, followed by the beep test again and more ball work.
BG: I feel like spewing just thinking about it.
SG: There's more. Corey called us in and after three hours of training he said we were going to finish with another 5km time trial.
BG: What was the reaction of the players?
SG: Everyone started laughing because we thought he was joking. But he wasn't. Corey said 'I don't care if you crawl, walk or run it, but we're doing it and you will be timed.'
BG: You feel it was the fittest you had been in your career?
SG: Corey's mantra was 'fitness is the key to football.' We had some elite runners in the group and everybody used to push each other.
BG: Craig Parson's was a freak runner?
SG: We used to do a lot of 1km time trials but nobody could get close to him. He used to beat everyone by 15 seconds. Brent Piltz was probably the next best.
BG: All the hard work paid dividends with the Hoppers facing Wangaratta Rovers in the grand final?
SG: I was fairly fortunate to play in so many grand finals early on in my career.
BG: The Hoppers were the favourites?
SG: We were flying at the time and won the second semi-final and were full of confidence heading into the decider.
BG: What are your memories of the grand final?
SG: We got off to a flyer and kicked six goals to one in the first quarter. But like all good sides, the Rovers worked themselves back into the contest and there was only a goal in it at the last change.
BG: History says it was the Hoppers who finished full of running?
SG: I think we kicked eight goals to one in the last-quarter but the floodgates didn't open until late. It was only the last 10 minutes that I was comfortable that we had it in the bag.
BG: The following season in 2003 you relocated to Bendigo?
SG: Libby, my now wife, had finished university and got a job offer, so I followed her to Bendigo.
BG: You joined South Bendigo?
SG: It was a terrific football club with terrific facilities. It's a bit like Lavington Sports Ground but in the centre of town.
BG: After a couple of seasons at South Bendigo you joined Donvale?
SG: Libby and I moved to Melbourne for employment. I played alongside Brad O'Connor and Richard Heinrich who would later go on to play with Yarrawonga.
BG: It was a good standard of football?
SG: There were a lot of former AFL players running around in the competition and also a lot of young players with ambitions of playing at the elite level.
BG: You were a big fan of O'Connor as a player?
SG: Brad is one of the best contested marks I've seen. His nickname is 'Buckets' for a reason.
BG: In 2007 you joined Culcairn?
SG: I was still living in Melbourne but Culcairn were playing Barnawartha in a practice match. Two of my good mates in Graham Fruean and Clint Brown were playing.
BG: Matt Klemke was the coach?
SG: I was still living in Melbourne but bought a house in Albury that I wanted to renovate. So I decided to join Culcairn and travel back on Friday and do a bit of work on the house and play football.
BG: Klemke has got the gift of the gab when it comes to recruiting?
SG: One of Matt's biggest strengths as a coach is that he is a people's person. People just find it hard to say no to him. I said no four times to him before I said yes when he was first trying to sign me.
BG: Would it be fair to say Klemke was obsessed with football while coach?
SG: It wasn't unusual for Matt to call three times a day to chat about football. He was that passionate.
BG: Klemke and yourself decided to rotate the midfield heavily off the bench which was innovative at the time in the Hume league?
SG: I think it's fair to say that it was a tactic that hadn't been seen in the bush much before then. Matt would have set times for each player how long they would spend in the midfield before heading to the bench.
BG: It was controversial with some of the stalwart Culcairn supporters initially?
SG: We had a few arguments early on with supporters who were used to the midfielders resting up forward. But they got used to it after a couple of weeks.
BG: You played alongside some colourful characters in Graham Fruean and Chad Willis?
SG: I love both the blokes to death. 'Fruey' wasn't the biggest fan of training but he had that uncanny knack to do some freakish things on the field.
BG: You thought it was a luxury having 'Fruey' and Klemke playing on a back flank?
SG: As a midfielder, as soon as the ball went near 'Fruey' or Matty, I would try and find some space because you knew they would win the ball nine times out of ten.
BG: Willis rated himself as a match-winner?
SG: I remember Chad and Dallas Lodge were our two main avenues to goal and liked to call themselves the 'twin towers'. After a few cans Chad would often say 'just get it into the towers, we'll do the rest.'
BG: Klemke and yourself also had a mantra about Willis who had a short-fuse on the field and a tendency to get sent off?
SG: Matty and I would often say to each other 'if the game's on the line, Chad's on the pine.'
BG: Willis is a classy finisher?
SG: Chad doesn't miss and is the best set shot for goal that I have seen in the bush.
BG: Culcairn handed Osborne one of their heftiest defeats at Walbundrie after winning the second semi-final by more than 12 goals?
SG: We did but knew everything went right. Personally I was worried and thought to myself 'have we poked the bear too early?'
BG: Osborne did their homework and had quite a few different match-ups in the decider?
SG: Obviously Graham Hart is a smart coach and knew he had to try something different. We just had to stick to our game plan and not worry about the opposition.
BG: The match was up for grabs at the last change?
SG: We made a few changes including Chad onto the pine.
BG: Nat Stroh emerged as the unlikely hero?
SG: Nat bobbed-up with three goals which was the difference in the end. It just highlighted our rotation policy and Nat was nice and fresh when a lot of the opposition were running on empty.
BG: You feel Culcairn short-changed themselves and should have won more than one flag during that era?
SG: I remember Trent Logue missing a goal from 10m out late in one final that would have put us into another grand final. Anything can happen once you make a decider.
BG: How many matches did you play at Culcairn?
SG: It was more than 100 and most of that time I was still travelling from Melbourne.
BG: You joined Thurgoona in 2013 under coach Jason Sheather?
SG: I just felt like I needed a change at the time. Libby and I were about to have our first child and not having to travel for training was an enticing factor.
BG: Thurgoona made the grand final?
SG: They did but unfortunately I had to watch from the sidelines with stress fractures in my foot. Kiewa went on to win it.
BG: After one season at Thurgoona you were thinking of taking a year off football to finish renovating your house?
SG: That was the plan but I ended up joining Corryong.
BG: How did that come about?
SG: Andrew Reid is a mate of mine and was coaching the Demons. I got a random phone call from him one weekend and he said 'we are playing a practice match and we have only got 14 players, can you fill in?'
BG: So you played?
SG: It was only 15 minutes before the match which was in East Albury. I reluctantly agreed.
BG: You ended having a season with the Demons?
SG: I loved it up there.
BG: The Demons made the grand final against Cudgewa?
SG: I stacked my mountain bike in the lead-up to the grand final. I hurt my back and could hardly bend over in the decider.
BG: You got rolled?
SG: We flogged Cudgewa in the second semi-final but they sprung the upset in the big dance.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.