By LIAM DURKIN
ONE man now stands alone as the senior games record holder at Yallourn Yallourn North Football-Netball Club.
Bombers legend Barrie Burnett broke the record when he ran out for game number 320 last Saturday against Gormandale.
The Bombers playing coach broke the record previously held by Wayne Paulet, who was on hand to congratulate his successor.
Running out alongside children Harvey, Tex and Billy, and with wife Kristy there in support, YYN gave Burnett a milestone to remember, chalking up a huge victory.
Both teams formed a guard of honour post-match as Burnett was chaired from the ground.
Reflecting on his career, Burnett said time had flown by since his debut as an 18 year old in 2002.
“I can still remember my first game … it has gone pretty quick,” he said.
“I’m proud to be a one-club player. I grew up watching this club when I six years old. I always wanted to play here.”
Sitting behind the goals throughout the 1990s, Burnett remembers the deeds of the Bombers of the time, as they played in four Mid Gippsland Football-Netball League grand finals in a row and won premierships in 1993 and 1996.
Little was anyone to know the 1996 triumph would signal the start of a 23 year wait for the next premiership, which came in 2019 with Burnett at the helm as playing-coach – a moment he counted as the high point in this career.
“Plenty of highlights throughout but 2019 winning the flag and seeing the happiness around the club was definitely a highlight,” he said.
Burnett was forced to wait longer than most before achieving that prize, with his loyalty shining throughout some tough days at George Bates Reserve.
“I’ve been part of more lows than highs,” he said.
“The last five or six years we’ve been amongst it but other than that I played in three finals in 14 years and two sides where we won one game a season.”
Such dedication to one club serves as a good lesson in commitment to many local players.
Playing generally as a midfielder, Burnett in his prime became known as a true accumulator of possessions who would regularly get 30 touches a game.
He attributed this to nothing overly spectacular.
“It wouldn’t be down to fitness, probably just reading the play,” he said.
It was this ball winning ability that saw him take out the Elder-Berwick Medal as best player in the MGFNL in 2007.
Wearing a distinctive long sleeve red and black jumper with the number one on the back for most of the journey, Burnett explained how the number was passed down to him by fellow club great Rick Hearn.
“I started off number 27 and then Rick Hearn had number one, when he retired he handed me number one and it was a privilege to me and I’ve worn it ever since,” he said.
“I’ve always worn a long sleeve, just something that I’ve done. Probably because I’ve got little spaghetti arms.”
Hearn is part of a list of many to have coached Burnett at the Bombers, along with Garry Young, Leo Galea, Tony Price, Dale Burridge, David Ivey and Adam Bailey.
Burnett succeeded Bailey as senior coach, who he credited with reversing the fortunes of YYN.
“He (Bailey) came in, he had a plan, he had a vision,” Burnett said.
“The people he brought into the club, he didn’t just go out and try and get the best players around, he said he wants to build people who are good clubmen and make the club good and some of those players are still here.
“That’s where I give him as much credit for my success as a coach because he set the standard and I’ve just followed it on.”
YYN has had no shortage of star players in Burnett’s time, and he pointed to Rick Hearn and Wayne Paulet as two standouts, as well as modern day player Tom Hutton and current Bomber Dean MacDonald.
In terms of opponents he rates former Boolarra midfielder Matt Dyer at the top of the list, followed by Mirboo North pair Shane Peters and Tim Traill and Yinnar’s Jimmy Dowling.
Burnett as well has been touted as arguably YYN’s greatest ever player, although the man himself said that was a matter for others to decide.
“If that’s how people see me that’s their opinion. I’ve just always given my best for the club,” he said.
“I’ve watched and played with players I think are 10 times better than me. It’s probably just the longevity that helps my case in those things, but I think there are a lot better players that have played for this club than me.”
Burnett said he only ever got close to leaving once, which came after he won the league best and fairest and looked to possibly play at a higher level.
“I realised where I enjoyed playing footy and why I played footy and it was for mates and that’s why I just decided to come back and play for Yallourn North,” he said.
With the Bombers enjoying their first season in the North Gippsland Football-Netball League, and with mateship a key pillar in Burnett’s love of the club, he said life was grand in the current playing group.
“I’ve never played in a group that has such a tight bond,” he said.
As for the man Burnett took the record from, Wayne Paulet, the now former games record holder said the achievement couldn’t have gone to a more deserving person.
“If there was anyone (to break the record) Barrie would be the one,” he said.
“I’ve known Barrie for years and years. I coached him as a kid.
“He always wanted to just play footy for Yallourn North, go nowhere else, just play footy for Yallourn North.
“All the players love him. He’s a really likeable bloke and he can talk to everyone.”
Having been the only YYN player to play 300 senior games before Burnett joined company, Paulet joked it had been a “lonely time for a while”.
The 300 gamers work closely on game day, with Paulet an assistant coach.
“He’s very humble in self accolades, he’d rather be part of a team than win personal awards,” Paulet said of Burnett.
With the milestone game done and dusted, the club will look to recognise Burnett’s career in a formal capacity at a later date.
YYN president Evan Sheekey paid tribute to Burnett, saying he was a great role model to all at the club.
“Barrie’s a very intelligent football player and coach, knows the game very well but knows also how to treat a person with dignity and respect,” he said.
“You could say he’s a father figure and best mate to everybody involved at the club across the board.”
“He’s the pinnacle of dedication and commitment to one club.”