A decade had passed since former Adelaide midfielder Robert Shirley last stepped foot into the Crows headquarters at West Lakes but walking through on Monday felt that bit more special.
Shirley, now 42, was part of a contingent of ex-players at the Club supporting the potential next generation, with the 2023 Crows Academies Father Son Program kicking off.
The former tagger’s 10-year-old son Tom was welcomed to the Crows’ nest along with Nick and Joe Ricciuto, Harry Thompson, Tyson and Xavier Bickley, William Bassett, and Max Doughty, for a training session with some current players and staff.
Shirley, who moved to Cummins on the Eyre Peninsula after his AFL career ended, made the six-hour car trip to Adelaide to ensure Tom could take part in the first father/son training session.
Speaking to AFC Media, Shirley said sharing the experience with Tom was a moment he would never forget.
“It was brilliant, just to see his excitement, he’s been buzzing for a few weeks now, after knowing what date this was happening,” Shirley said.
“He couldn’t wait to get here and was just counting down the hours, saying ‘When are we going to go there and how far off is it?’
““Just to go through the facilities again after not being here for 10 years or so and then to see him so excited about it made me over the moon.”
The youngsters will be part of a skill-based support program hosted by Crows Academies coaches and current SANFL players Matt Wright and Jack Madgen.
Crows AFL skipper Jordan Dawson, together with Darcy Fogarty, Izak Rankine, Josh Rachele, Riley Thilthorpe and latest father/son selection Max Michalanney will also be involved in the program as coach mentors.
On Monday, the sons of past Crows greats were treated to a tour of the headquarters, which included taking a look at their Dad’s old locker, met a few players, as well as Senior Coach Matthew Nicks, and took part in a skills session.
Shirley, who also has a 14-year-old daughter, Annabel, says it can be hard to find time to drive down to Adelaide for Crows games but the family tries to make it to at least one or two a year.
He said he was aiming to drive Tom to Adelaide for the next three sessions across the next few months.
“With footy on Saturdays, it’s hard to do the seven-hour trek after that, both Tom and my daughter both play,” Shirley said.
“But this is one of those opportunities we just couldn’t miss out on.
“The Club owes me nothing, I owe the Club plenty, but for something like this to be put on and for my son, especially, who loves his footy, this is just another level.
“It’s good to see my name on the 150-club board and I’m sure it was a big thrill for him, too.”
Crows Academies Manager Jarrod Meers said the Club was keen to support the youngsters with their football journey.
“It’s about throwing our arms around these lads and ensuring they keep having fun, that’s our main aim of the Father/Son Program,” Meers said.
“We will not only be supporting Adelaide based sons, but also linking with those who are residing in Melbourne and other parts of the country.”
The Father/Daughter and Mother/Daughter program will also be hosted once the 2023 AFLW Season kicks off later this year.