WHEN Rochester football export Shaun Atley debuted for North Melbourne in round one, 2011, he never expected just eight years later he would be a 200-game AFL player.
The now 27-year-old brought up the milestone earlier this month in North Melbourne’s loss to the Sydney Swans.
Unfortunately for Atley, he couldn’t celebrate the occasion with friends and family in attendance because crowds are not allowed at Victorian games.
But it’s still a day that he will never forget when the time comes to reflect on his career as a player.
“It’s nice to think I have played this many games for the North Melbourne Football Club,” Atley said.
“As a kid, when you first walk through the doors of a club, your goal is to play just one game and go from there.
“My number one focus right now is to keep playing some consistent footy and help the team get to where we want to be.”
Since his debut against West Coast, Atley has missed just nine games at the top level – admitting he has had his fair share of luck along the way.
“Thankfully I haven’t had any soft tissues along the way because they can be difficult to overcome if you do keep getting them,” he said.
“I’ve also been lucky to have some good coaches who have been willing to keep giving me a go.
“I started on the wing and now I’m playing a lot more in defence. I guess I’m just fortunate to have kept finding a spot in the team.”
Season 2020 has already been challenging on so many different fronts for players across the competition with COVID-19 wreaking havoc.
One of the biggest came with a two-month gap between rounds one and two.
“There were times where it was hard to stay motivated because there was so much uncertainty around when the season would get going again,” Atley said.
“But the club were fantastic throughout the whole period – staying in contact with us the whole time with regular meetings.
“The time off did give me the opportunity to get back to the farm in Corop which is something I can’t usually do during the season.
“It was a great opportunity to do some training with Joe. I don’t see him as much as I used to because he is living in Adelaide.
“Dad certainly enjoyed having us back to help him with some odd jobs that needed to be done.”
The Kangaroos are currently enjoying their first full season under Rhyce Shaw, who took over from Brad Scott halfway through last year.
And Atley admitted Shaw has helped him to come out of his shell.
“I’m usually more of an introverted type of person,” he said.
“But “Shawry” really challenged me to be more vocal and take on more of a mentoring role for our younger players.
“And I admit it is something that I am definitely enjoying.
“As a group we have a lot of belief in what he is doing and I can’t wait to keep working with him going forward.”