Happy to help

When former St Kilda and Western Bulldogs midfielder Shane Birss’ season wrapped up at the end of August last year the former AFL player considered hanging up the boots for good.

His Mallee Football League club, Walpeup-Underbool Football Club, had failed to make finals and he was about to become a father.

After an AFL career that included 51 games for Western Bulldogs between 2002 and 2006 and 20 games at St Kilda between 2007 and 2008, there was nothing left to prove.

With his club merging and preparing to join the Sunraysia Football League, it was as good a time as any to retire.

But after speaking with Kangaroos coach Josh Stubbe, Birss decided to make Heyfield his home.

On Saturday the 33 year-old will pull on the boots to represent his new club in the North Gippsland Football Netball League grand final.

It was something he had always considered.

“I always talked about playing for Heyfield and I played enough games to qualify for finals and it’s worked out well,” Birss said.

Obviously you play footy to play finals and that’s the main objective, but it was mainly just to get back with families I know.”

Birss, who played for Sale in the Gippsland League prior to his AFL days, had strong ties to the club through his brother, ex-Heyfield coach Damien.

He said it was the people around the club which made it an easy decision after he finished in the Mallee.

“It’s been great, that’s a big reason why I went there (the people) – I was always going to be welcome at the Heyfield Football Club,” Birss said.

Damien may no longer be playing, but being at Heyfield also allows Birss more time with his family.

“He more watches games and it’s good – his son and family obviously go and watch the footy so I get to see him most weekends which is nice,” he said.

“Having a little girl I wanted to get back to see my brother and sister and family more often.”

While he said he was happy to pass on the knowledge he built up during his 71-game AFL career, the strength of the club’s leadership meant he didn’t need to give too much guidance.

“Stubbe’s doing a great job the way he’s coaching the side – they’ve got good leaders,” Birss said.

While Birss played down his role, Stubbe was glowing in his praise for the midfielder.

“It’s brilliant for the boys to have the knowledge and talk out there on the ground and to have someone of his experience come in and steady the ship in the second half of the year,” Stubbe said.

“His brother coached here last year and his family has been involved in the club for a long time, but he has never played for Heyfield. He initiated it and playing for Heyfield was something he really wanted to do.”

In an interesting sub-plot, Birss will face off against his former West Adelaide teammate – Sale City coach David Piasente.

Birss joined the South Australian National Football League club in 2009 after his AFL career ended.

“It’s quite ironic, sometimes it’s a bit hard to play against those kind of guys – we’re still really good mates,” he said.

“It’s funny it’s worked out that way.”

Despite the result, he said the pair would celebrate together after the game.