Playing one game of AFL football is something millions of people aspire to do, but very few achieve.
Even fewer play two games, then three, then four, and so on. To play 234 games of senior football for one club is certainly an incredible achievement.
It can be easy to forget that for some players, football clubs grow to become more than just a workplace and mean more than the colours they pull on. They become like a second home, and after over a decade at Arden Street, Shaun Atley leaves as a modern-day great of the club.
A football club is far more than the sum of the abilities of the players selected each week, and despite his monstrous contributions to the on-field achievements of North Melbourne, Atley has arguably been even more influential off it.
After sharing the field with the outgoing icon since 2011, Ziebell says the forward turned defender has left an indelible mark on the club.
“He’s been huge for our footy club. A lot of people wouldn’t know, but behind-the-scenes in the locker room ‘Ats’ is one of the most loved people here. He’s one of the most fun blokes to be around,” Ziebell told North Media.
“He’s going to be a huge loss for us, not only on the field, but also off it. He just brings so much to the group.
“He’s got an undeniable love for the footy club and you can see the passion he has for North every day. He’s given absolutely everything he could to our club.
“We’ve been very fortunate to have him here. He’s been a wonderful asset and he’ll be sorely missed.”
Aside from his trademark run and carry, a defining feature of Atley’s time at North has been the sheer longevity and consistency of his body … his ability to maintain match fitness week in, week out.
In his 11 years at the club, Atley only missed 11 games. Before 2021, the only season he had played fewer than 20 games was 2020, where he played all 17 fixtures of the Covid shortened campaign.
Ziebell says his former teammate set the tone for individual preparation, passing on a positive example to countless players over the years.
“‘Ats’ has been the benchmark of our club for the better part of a decade in terms of training standards, especially over the summer months,” he said.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen him miss a training session, let alone a game, in his time at the club. I know a lot of the young guys look at him to set those standards.
“He’s never one to whinge, no matter how hard things are getting or how rough things might seem. He always just has his head down, working as hard as he can.
“He’s an absolute credit to himself, because he’s probably got everything he can out of himself down to sheer hard work, and his legacy in that will last for quite some time.
“He’s left a big impression not just on the young guys coming through, but also a lot of the senior guys who’ve been watching and working with him for the last few years.”
Football continues to move forward though, and Shaun Atley has pulled on the royal blue and white for the last time at AFL level.
He departs the club as just one of 33 players to have played 200 games for North, securing life membership at the club he’s worked so hard to improve.
Ziebell says the legacy his close friend leaves is one of hard work and kindness.
“He’s (Atley) been one of the most respected members of our team, and that’s down to his work rate, his attitude, his ability to work hard and his desire to do anything for his teammates and the club,” the number seven added.
“It’s always been about actions over words for ‘Ats’, and I think that’s a brilliant way to go about it.
“He’s the most kind-hearted and generous man at the footy club. He’ll definitely be sorely missed within our four walls not just on the field, but in day-to-day life.
“Everyone at the club wishes him all the best going forward. He deserves everything he gets. He’s a legend of a bloke and has given everything he possibly could to this footy club.
“I think it’s really important and fitting we send him off in the right way.”