GROWING up in the Goulburn Valley, the AFL felt as if it was a world away for North Melbourne’s Shaun Atley.
When players came to visit Atley and his fellow school students their smiles were as wide as the distance between Melbourne and Rochester.
Atley and several teammates found themselves on the other side of the fence last month when they visited schools across the region.
“It doesn’t feel like too long ago that I was one of those kids,’’ Atley said.
“I still remember when AFL players came to my school and how much of a buzz you get out of it for the next week or so.
“Being able to give back to the community is great – hopefully the kids are able to take a bit out of it.’’
While junior footballers believe winning and losing is just as important as the AFL team they support, Atley says playing with a smile is the most important aspect at a young age.
“At this young age the most important thing for the kids to do is enjoy the game,’’ he said.
“It can get a bit serious as you get older but you should always be having fun when playing footy.
Having started his own career out at Auskick before progressing through the ranks of the Rochester and Corryong Football Clubs, Atley knows just how important local clubs are to the community.
“All local clubs are important to the development of a player both on and off the field,’’ he said.
‘‘Each club instils the values which you take through to the AFL level.
“The encouragement and support junior clubs provide is one of the most important steps in a person’s football journey.’’
For Atley, his own career has continued to move at an extremely quick pace as he closes in on his 200th game.
After being selected with pick 17 in the 2010 national draft, the now 26-year-old has gone on to play 189 matches.
‘‘I’m already in my ninth year — time just goes so quickly,’’ he said.
‘‘I still know I’ve got good footy left in me. Being able to reach 200 games would be a special achievement because not too many guys get to that milestone.’’