In a very special Where are they Now? we chat with 300-gamer Tyson Edwards.
‘Zooma’ is fondly remembered as one of the best, and most consistent players to ever pull on the Crows jumper, but it wasn’t always that way.
The two-time premiership midfielder tells how he nearly missed out on the 1997 Grand Final and talks about the major health scare that brought about the sudden end to his playing career.
From the small country town of Wynarka, Edwards played Under-16s for his local team when he was just six-years-old.
He joined West Adelaide’s development squad in Under-13s, and progressed through the junior ranks, making his league debut in 1993.
Edwards didn’t find his way onto an AFL list until the Crows selected him with pick No.21 in the Pre-Season Draft of 1995 …
“I was a shy kid and still getting used to living in the city. I was playing with Westies and working for David Shipway, a big Westies man, as a storeman to fill in a few hours during the day.
“I didn’t have a heap of discussions with AFL clubs. I remember North Melbourne ringing me and asking me if I wanted to come over and train with them. I ummed and ahhed, and basically told them I didn’t really want to go over to Melbourne.
“I assume when a player says that a club probably says, ‘Well, let’s not worry about him!’ Back then, there just weren’t the resources to look at players like there is now.
“At the end of 1994, I was invited out by the Crows to do a pre-season with five or six other SANFL boys, with the hope of getting drafted.”
It’s difficult to comprehend for fans who enjoyed his decorated career, but Edwards battled self-belief and confidence. Even after he was drafted by Adelaide, he doubted he was good enough …
“I never wanted to be seen as a big head, or have an arrogance about me, so I always talked myself down. You can do that to a certain level, but if you do it too much it can really affect your performance and it certainly worked that way with me.
“If I played a bad game, I used to dwell on it for about three weeks. I’m sure some players coming into the AFL system today have similar issues. I know if I see it in kids that I coach now, I try and help them out with it.
“Eventually, I worked my way through it and started to enjoy some good performances. I found a healthy way of reviewing my games, even the bad ones.”
While still holding down a day job, Edwards played 12 games in his debut AFL season. He built up to 17 matches in 1996, playing predominantly as a small defender, but wasn’t settled in the team.
The arrival of Malcolm Blight ahead of the 1997 season was a turning point in his fledgling career …
“Malcolm came in at a time when I was battling with a little bit of inconsistency. He helped me with the reviewing of games and also setting goals at training, which was something I hadn’t done before. I used to just go out, train and do my thing but ‘Blighty’ actually helped me identify some things I could work on during a training session.
“You didn’t have to be perfect all the time, but he made sure you went about it the right way. I think I became more consistent because of that and, eventually, that transferred into my game-day performances.”
Edwards was still finding his feet when the Crows qualified for the 1997 finals series. He only played one minor round game after Round 13 that season and, after a quiet performance in the Qualifying Final win over West Coast, was omitted from the Semi-Final clash with Geelong.
However, the misfortune of a couple of teammates, including injured forward Peter Vardy, became Edwards’ good fortune …
“It was during a period of my career when I was still inconsistent and in and out of the AFL team. I’d come in, have one good game but then play two or three average games and go back to the SANFL.
“I remember what big Shaun Rehn told me before one training session after I’d been dropped during the finals. We were just jogging around the oval, getting ready to do a warm-up and he said, ‘Mate, don’t give up. Anything could happen here. You might still be a chance.’
“Sure enough, a week later there was a chance for me. It was lucky for me, but unlucky for those guys that got injured at the worst possible time.
“I was able to play in a premiership, which is everyone’s dream.”
Edwards was just 21-years-old when the Adelaide Football Club won its first-ever flag, defeating heavy favourites St Kilda by 31 points on September 27, 1997 …
“No one expected us to win. No one even expected us to get to the Grand Final. It was the Club’s first premiership, so the city of Adelaide was absolutely crazy! The support was just amazing. It’s like we were The Beatles when we came back to Adelaide after the Grand Final! It was out of control.
“At that age, you definitely don’t appreciate it as much as you should. Being 21 in 1997 and then winning another flag the next year, you think ‘Well, this will just keep happening. We’ll be around the mark and I’ll win another two or three flags before I’m finished’, but it’s not like that at all.
“I was very fortunate to win two premierships because a lot of players don’t get that opportunity. But if I could’ve, I would’ve liked to win a flag towards the end of my career, when you’ve experienced all the ups and downs and overcome the challenges.
“I think it would’ve been a lot more satisfying. Not that I would ever go back! It’s just hard for a young kid to understand what it actually takes to win a premiership. I think I played in 15 finals after that and we got really close, particularly in 2005-06, but never actually got back to the big stage.”
Over the next couple of years, Edwards became a model of consistency and an important part of the coveted Crows midfield. In a reflection of his remarkable reliability and durability, he finished top five in the Crows Club Champion award eight times between 2000 and 2009, and was runner-up on three occasions …
“Would it have been nice to win a B&F? Of course it would have, but it’s not the be all and end all or what you play for, ultimately. It doesn’t bother me so much, but I would’ve liked to have won a best and fairest more for my family and friends, so they could sit back and be just that little bit more proud of what you were able to achieve.
“I got close a few times, but never quite got there!”
In Round 11, 2009, Edwards became the fourth Crow to reach the 300-game milestone. In front of a large contingent of family and friends at Etihad Stadium, the unassuming midfielder racked up a career-high 41 possessions, to go with 10 tackles and nine clearances …
“I prided myself on milestones and big games, especially in the last half of my career. On those occasions, it’s not so much about you. It’s more about trying to make your family, friends and the people who helped you get there as proud as they could be. That’s how I approached it anyway.
“It doesn’t always work out, but it did for me that day and it was really good for the people who came over. I had quite a big group in the stands and in the rooms after the game. It was a good experience for them and for me – all the support I had was fantastic.”
His AFL swansong came nearly exactly 12 months later. After a rare and (at the time) unexplained drop-off in form, Edwards was omitted from the team for the first time in over a decade, and soon made the decision to retire.
The fan favourite was initially denied a farewell game by Neil Craig, but the coach had a change of heart and granted Edwards an opportunity to run out one last time against Fremantle at Football Park.
In a fitting farewell, Edwards collected 32 touches and two goals in his 321st and final game and was cheered from the ground by thousands of adoring Crows supporters …
“In those days, it wasn’t the thing to do to give someone a milestone or farewell game. It was a little bit new. Some people thought it was the wrong thing to do, and others thought more along the lines of, ‘Why not?’
“I was really proud of that day, and that I was still able to perform at a pretty good level, again, more for the people who came to support me. It was a pretty emotional day. I really wanted to show those people that I could still play, but also say ‘thank you’.
“The support I received from fans and people I didn’t know, who sent letters into the Club, was overwhelming and I can’t thank them enough. I’ll be forever grateful. I remember going up to ‘The Shed’ afterwards and it was jam packed. I was given a great reception by all our supporters. It was great for my boys to be a part of as well, because they were old enough to remember it.”
It wasn’t until nine months later that Edwards revealed the real reason behind his sudden exit. The husband and father of three had been battling testicular cancer since November, 2009. Edwards made the decision to keep his diagnosis a secret to protect his children, telling only a handful of people, including Neil Craig, captain Simon Goodwin and Crows medicos.
He had surgery to remove the malignant tumour. Incredibly, Edwards returned to training just a week later but his recovery took a heavy toll both physically and emotionally …
“It was a really stressful time. It was probably a silly thing to do, to keep playing and training. My wife, Mandy, said, ‘It’s your decision. You make the call whether you want to keep playing or not and I’ll support you either way’. She probably should’ve taken it out of my hands!
“I think the biggest thing I learned during that period was that you don’t know how you’re going to react until you’re in the situation. I think our self-awareness and appreciation of other people, who have things going on in their lives, is much greater having been through what we have.
“We kept my diagnosis quiet. It was more for the sake of our kids, so that they didn’t stress out and think. ‘Dad’s not going to be here’ or anything like that. We didn’t really know early days what was happening. If I had my time again, would I tell people? I don’t know. Maybe. I didn’t want people asking me, ‘Are you OK? How are you going?’ all the time. I just wanted to get on with it.
“I would’ve loved to have told my teammates. If I could’ve been 100 per cent certain it wouldn’t have left the room, I would’ve told them, just so they knew what was going on with me.
“I felt it was wrong that I was keeping it from them. I’d just had the operation and was trying to hide the scar in the showers and all those sorts of things. I felt like I was sneaking around a little bit, which didn’t sit well with me but it was just the decision we made with our family in mind.
“It was a difficult time, but I think I was meant to get cancer for a reason, so hopefully I can prevent a few other people from getting it, or help people to get onto it early if they do get it. I’ve been fine since. We got it really early and it was treatable, so I was fortunate in that sense.”
After retiring from an AFL career spanning 321 games (ranked second all-time at Adelaide) over 16 years, Edwards spent time with lawyer Greg Griffin in player management before joining the coaching panel of cross-town rivals, Port Adelaide …
“It was a fantastic move. Obviously, there are only two AFL teams in Adelaide, so there aren’t many opportunities in AFL coaching here. It was great to learn a bit of a different culture, meet new people and work under Ken Hinkley.
“It was also great that Matty Primus and Peter Rohde gave me a chance to join their coaching group. I loved working with the young players as a development coach in the first two years and then had an opportunity to be a line coach the second two years.
“The appeal for me was meeting new people, seeing if coaching was for me, and coming to a club that was really struggling in all areas and seeing whether you can be a part of the build to make it a better place when you leave.
“I loved it. Footy clubs are a great place to be. You have to work hard, but you have a lot of fun too.”
Since leaving Alberton, Edwards has assumed the role as coach of the Glenelg Under-18s. Tyson and wife Mandy are also pursuing a career in real estate through Harris Real Estate …
“Phil Harris has been out by himself for about six years and runs a really good business here. I couldn’t have picked a better company to come to. They provide a lot of training and support to help you be as good as you want to be.
“We’ve been hassling Phil a fair bit to try and teach us everything he knows in a short space of time. There’s a good energy and vibe at Harris Real Estate. Hopefully, we can help some people buy and/or sell a house and make it an easy thing to do.”
Tyson and Mandy are also busy raising their sons, Jackson (16), Luke, (14) and Brodie (12). Tyson coaches Jackson at Glenelg, and all three are keen sportsmen …
“They all enjoy their sport; footy, basketball, tennis and even a bit of golf, but footy is probably No.1 for them. They’ll all be playing at Glenelg this year in development squads, and also for their local club, Henley Sharks.
“They love it. I think it’s great that they try and enjoy different sports. I’ll help them along if I can and enjoy the journey with them.”