GUY Campbell always knew the final siren would one day sound on his footballing life.
But he didn’t expect it to be so soon.
2020 started as a year with great hope for Campbell and Echuca United, only to find themselves caught up in the coronavirus pandemic as all senior football was cancelled for the season.
It left an oval-shaped hole in Campbell’s life.
Twenty years ago, he wouldn’t have been able to fill it without the game he loved.
But he is now satisfied he doesn’t need a ball or whiteboard in his hands to be satisfied in life.
In June, he made the decision to stand down as United coach, shocking many.
“The magnets have been let free to the kids and it’s all done,” he said.
“A small part of making the decision was the COVID-19 situation. It gave me a chance to sit back and reflect and forecast what was ahead as well.
“I looked at where my kids and family were at. In the end, it was a pretty easy decision.
When you are in the groove and in between the big three as I call it – family, work and footy – it takes up a lot of time.
“I’ve certainly never done things by halves. It’s all or nothing which means I’m putting all my effort into all my jobs.”
During his coaching tenure at United, Campbell helped lift the club to become a premiership threat.
Despite a disappointing end to the season in 2019 – a straight sets final elimination – Campbell said he measured his success in other ways.
“It’s not how anyone would like their season to finish but it’s always going to happen to someone,” he said.
“It’s important the boys take it as a learning curve. I don’t look as that as a defining moment to how I finished as a coach.
“One of the best things about my time at the club is the culture we built. I think it’s certainly showing now with just how close the group is.
“Having stopped and seeing the boys wanting to stay together is very important.
“The club is obviously is looking for a new coach now, but whoever does come on board is going to be in a very good position.”
It seems fitting Campbell was able to bring his coaching career to an end at United.
After all, it was the place where he first learnt to play the game and the start of a journey which would see him reach the top level.
But the 37-year-old didn’t do it the easy way, spending four years in the VFL after playing for the Bendigo Pioneers in the TAC Cup.
“I started at the Bendigo Diggers and then the club merged with Essendon to become the Bendigo Bombers,” he recalled.
“That was a great time because it meant I had the opportunity to play with AFL-listed players week in, week out.
“Being in a better team probably did help my chances of getting drafted because sometimes with the Diggers we did struggle.”
When Sydney selected Campbell with the 12th pick in the 2004 rookie draft, his AFL dream was realised.
But the boy from the country soon found himself out of his depth.
“Being a 23-year-old moving from Echuca to Sydney was very different,” he said.
“I went from having two sets of traffic lights in town and then they were on every street corner - it was unbelievable.
“The footballing side of things were normal out on the oval. It was when I left the club that I struggled sometimes.
“I had a lot of time to think about home and a fair bit of home sickness started to creep in.
“You were trying to settle in at an AFL club, which was a dream come true, but then you’re missing home as well.
“It became pretty tough early in the piece.”
For all the on-field success the Swans experienced in 2005 – a senior and reserves premiership – Campbell was still questioning whether it was the place he wanted to be.
“The beauty of it was there a lot of other blokes in the same boat,” he said.
“It wasn’t people just from Sydney, everyone had been recruited from far and wide.
“We tried to help each other through it. But it was the quiet times when no one is around where you would struggle.
“There was a lot of support there, we had mentors who would help us.
“Sometimes you would think it would be easier at home surrounded by the people and things you are familiar with.
“The way I was feeling started to show in my footy because I wasn’t living up to expectations come the end of the year.”
Soon after the conclusion of the premiership celebrations, which lasted almost a month, Campbell found himself off an AFL list.
But he was happy to be back home in Echuca.
“It was a bittersweet feeling,” he said.
“I felt like I was able to pick up my routine which I left behind 12 months earlier.
“The beauty of the situation was there was still football back here. I went straight back to United and we made finals straight away.
“It’s funny because I was training with Essendon before being drafted and playing with their reserves.
“Looking back, you sort of weigh up ‘do I wish I had of gone to Essendon?’ because every rookie was playing or going to Sydney at such a successful time in the club’s history.
“It was all stuff I had to digest when I got home.”
Campbell’s talents stood out in the years following his return to Echuca.
His honours included the 2011 Morrison Medal he won while playing for Rochester and the 2013 Murray League premiership with United.
He was also selected in the Victoria Country team on six occasions before being an assistant coach for a further two years.
“It’s nice to have individual success but I would like to have a lot more premierships,” Campbell explained.
“While we didn’t win any premierships during my time at Rochy, it was still a great club to be part of.
“Year in year out putting ourselves in a position to play finals football was a great thing.
“The trip up the road didn’t feel far at all when you were going to play footy with a great group of guys.”
While now is a time for reflection on Campbell’s career, he is already looking forward.
And he can’t wait to get started on the next part of his life.
“I’ll definitely still take an interest in what is happening with the local footy,” he said.
“The family and I have brought a caravan so that is going to take up some time.
“I’m ready to see a different part of life.
“Football has well and truly been a big part of mine, where I have invested so much mentally and physically.
“I’m wanting to get out of that headspace and go down a different path.”
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