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Where are they now? Matthew Robran

Katrina Gill  March 27, 2013 10:33 AM

Robran launches a torpedo Crow Clips: Matthew Robran launched an enormous torpedo in the Semi-Final of 1997 against Geelong.
Matthew Robran of the Crows leaps onto the back of Ben Graham of the Cats for a mark during the 2000 round 18 AFL match between the Geelong Cats and the Adelaide Crows at Shell Stadium.

Matthew Robran of the Crows leaps onto the back of Ben Graham of the Cats for a mark during the 2000 round 18 AFL match between the Geelong Cats and the Adelaide Crows at Shell Stadium.

I was home sick and wanted to leave, but the Hawks wanted to keep me. I came home anyway and sat out of footy for a year.

A new regular feature in 2013, Where are they now? shines the spotlight on a former Crows great.

We didn’t have to go far to find our first subject Matthew Robran – a current Crows employee. But the interview is timely, as Robran was this week presented with a 20-year Club Service Award.

A veteran of 137 AFL games, Robran was involved in Adelaide’s first-ever game in 1991 … but he lined up for the opposition, Hawthorn, in his AFL debut ...

“It shows how much footy as changed. That game, we (Hawthorn) stayed over at The Lakes Hotel just across the road from Footy Park and walked over to the ground. We walked through the car park, which of course was full of people heading to the game, so there we were walking through the very pro-Crows crowd in our full Hawthorn kits.

“Adelaide was just an incredible force that night. They played with run and quick hands, which was a bit of a tradition for SA footy and we just couldn’t combat it. They were too slick and powerful. I don’t think anyone would’ve beaten Adelaide that night. The wave of emotion they were riding was huge.

“We got absolutely thumped and unfortunately I did a posterior cruciate ligament (knee) and missed 5-6 weeks. I was rucking against Romano Negri and the top of my knee/shinbone hit Romano’s hip … it wasn’t a great start to my AFL career.”

Robran only played six more games for the Hawks before returning to his native South Australia and joining the Crows. But his transition between AFL clubs was anything but smooth …

“I had a contract dispute with Hawthorn. I’d signed for one year and at the end of that year (1991) I wanted to come home to Adelaide. Because I didn’t have a manager to read through the fine print of my contract, I didn’t realise there was a clause that said Hawthorn could hang onto me for two years if they wanted to. I was home sick and wanted to leave, but the Hawks wanted to keep me.

“I came home anyway and sat out of footy for a year. Hawthorn was still trying to get me to go back. They looked at having me commute from Adelaide to Melbourne and came up with several different options, but I was just too homesick. I missed my family and friends, so I said ‘no’. I’d started a job in the travel industry with Ansett, which was something I always wanted to do, so I wasn’t going to throw that away either.

“As a result of the dispute, I couldn’t play footy anywhere. Technically, I couldn’t even train with my local amateur club Walkerville, but I still did a little bit just to try to keep some football touch. I tried to keep fit by playing basketball and that was a bit of fun. Halfway through the year, Hawthorn accepted I wasn’t going to come back and relinquished a bit, allowing me to train with Norwood. I ended up having groin surgery 4-6 weeks after returning to Norwood, so I didn’t have much to do with footy in that year.”

At the end of 1992, Robran secured his long-awaited trade to Adelaide. In a remarkable turn of events, Robran was traded to the Crows in exchange for pick No.11 in the 1992 AFL National Draft, which Hawthorn then used to select Matthew’s younger brother Jonathon.

“It was basically a straight swap in the end. Jonno always wanted to play AFL, but didn’t want to play in Adelaide. He was the opposite (to me) and wanted to purse his career outside of SA. He was rapt when he got drafted to Hawthorn and mum and dad were used to having a son away from home having been through it all a year or two prior. Jonno played 80-odd AFL games and won a night premiership, so he should be pretty proud of what he achieved as well.”

Matthew and Jonathon grew up as the ‘sons of’ SA football legend, Barrie Robran. But the pair never felt burdened by the family name …

“Jonno and I were very fortunate. We spent a lot of our childhood around footy clubs with dad heavily involved at North Adelaide. We were there every weekend and enjoyed the people around the place. As youngsters, we looked up in awe at the North senior players.

“We never felt any pressure from within the family. We certainly put pressure on ourselves, but mum and dad were always very supportive. Dad being, as good a player as he was, was able to pass on handy hints to both of us.”

Matthew forged his own career – and success. After an injury-interrupted first few years at West Lakes, Robran cemented his position at centre half-forward for the Crows. In 1996, he finished fourth in Club Champion voting and was recognised with the Best Team Man award. The reliable goalkicker played a key role in Adelaide’s 1997 and 1998 premierships, highlighted by a career-best six-goal haul in the ’98 Preliminary Final win over the Western Bulldogs. As you would expect, the two AFL flags rank highly among his favourite football memories …

“The two AFL premierships would be at the top, but not far behind is my very first league game for Norwood way back in 1989 against West Adelaide. It was a great story as to why I got selected. It was a long weekend in May. I played for the reserves on the Saturday and then Paul Weston pulled out of the league team on the Sunday, so I got a call up for the game on the Monday.

“There were about 15,000 people out there at Footy Park. I played on Craig Ebert for a while, so it was Robran versus Ebert and I think a lot of the older supporters enjoyed that. I was lucky enough to kick a couple of goals and it was just a really memorable game for me, personally.

“I was also lucky enough to be involved in state footy, which was great. You look at different games for different reasons and they become just as important to you, but premierships are what you play for, so they’re the best memories I have.”

Robran played with some of the greats of the game throughout his decorated AFL/SANFL career …

“Michael Aish was one of my all-time heroes. I was lucky enough to play alongside him at Norwood and he was just an exceptional player. Dermott Brereton was another of my favourite players, and I was very fortunate to play at the same club as him for a year (in 1991). I loved Gary Ayres too. He was terrific particularly for me as a young player at Hawthorn. His guidance and encouragement was fantastic. When he came to Adelaide as a coach I was rapt as well.

“Darren Jarman was probably the most skilful player I’ve ever seen. He was never big in the weights room or on the track, but when you had the talent he had you didn’t need to be back then. It’s hard to single guys out, but the 300-game players here like Ben Hart, Tyson Edwards, Andrew McLeod and Mark Ricciuto were all incredibly gifted footballers in their own way and left a huge mark on this Club.

“Tony Modra was terrific. ‘Mods’ was really strong. He wasn’t absolutely huge in the arms or shoulders, but his strength was one of his greatest assets. We all remember his freakish marking ability, but when you look back at his highlights reel you see all the soccer goals he kicked. You forget how good he was at soccering goals from incredible angles and distances. He’s right up there as one of the greats.”

Robran will also be remembered as one of the best-ever exponents of the ‘torpedo’ kick …

“My favourite torp was definitely the one against Geelong in the 1997 Semi-Final. The game was so close. I think we were a goal down at the time and I kicked one to level the scores.

 Check out Robran’s huge torpedo against the Cats in the clip above

“I enjoyed kicking ‘torps’. We had a coach at the time in Malcolm Blight, who encouraged that sort of stuff. His thought process was, if you try something and it works you can keep trying it until it doesn’t work, and then you put it away. I was always comfortable having a crack at the torp knowing I had the coach’s blessing. I got onto a couple in my career, which I enjoyed.

“I think it could be used more in the modern game. Like any other skill, it takes a lot of practice to get it right and if it doesn’t work, it can go anywhere. The way teams press and flood today, if you can get the ball over the back of the press it you’re away and with the backmen pushed right up there isn’t a lot of coverage. Dustin Fletcher (Essendon) is a classic for it.

“I think if you can do it and do it well, there’s certainly a place for it in the game.”

Despite having a year to run on his contract, Robran retired at the end of the 2001 season because of a back injury. By November that year, he was employed by the Adelaide Football Club in a Communications role. Today, he works as Events Executive at the Club. He still enjoys the environment, but is happy to watch from the sidelines …

“The pre-season of 1992 was when I first walked through the doors here. It was a long time ago. I’m almost part of the furniture now. In my role, I’m still a part of every home game, and I certainly get a thrill out of being involved and watching the footy live.

“I’ve got a young family; three girls, Brooke (10), Kayla (8) and Aleesha (6). They’re all a handful and all going on 18. I’ve never had the desire or the dream to go into coaching. I don’t think I’ve got the nous or mindset for analysing games. I’m happy just to sit back and watch. In my role at the Club, I get enough contact with the players. I’m happy to let the other blokes get stressed out and lose their hair.

“But I still have a real passion for the Club and am desperately keen to see them do well and, hopefully, bring another premiership cup home this year.”