Orren Stephenson - My Redan Story
Tell us about growing up playing rugby in regional NSW, at what age did you first discover Aussie Rules?
When I was about ten I started playing Rugby League in Albury. Mum and Dad were keen for both my brother and I to play the same weekend sport. So from then we played junior Rugby League in Albury, Griffith and Wagga.
When I was 17 (1999) I spent the last half of the year playing Saturday Aussie Rules at MCUE, my first coach was Brendan Roberson Dalton/Bayly Medal winner from the 90s, and Sunday Rugby League at Wagga Brothers.
How did you find your way to Redan and what were your initial impressions of the club?
My wife Whitney's family is from Ballarat and her younger brother Ryan was boarding at St Patrick's College. He had some class mates, Luke Nunn and Ryan Knowles that got him to Redan in the 18s to play with them.
At the beginning of 2002, Whitney and I made the decision to move to Ballarat not long after her family had relocated back, Ryan got me in contact with Brett Quinlan and from there I became a Lion.
They say timing is everything in life, 2002 was a good year to arrive at Redan?
Fantastic year! We had a really good side and was really surprised when I learnt a little more about where Redan had come from in the last five years. I was very lucky to be a part of a very good team.
What do you remember about Grand Final day and what did it mean to you to be part of that Premiership?
I remember being able to share it with Whitney and my two children Emilie and Patrick. The excitement at the final siren and the victory lap. Kenno (Mark Kennedy) marking everything in the back half.
A clear memory that I will never forget is arriving at the Western Oval and the looks on the faces of the long time supporters, they had rebuilt the place and I could not have been prouder to be able to play a role.
Who were some of the coaches and players who had the most influence on you during your time at Redan?
Brett had a massive influence as my senior coach. I remember doing development training by myself on marking and repeat efforts, the type of individualised training that AFL clubs do with their players now.
I was pretty raw as a 19 year old when I first arrived. Kieran also brought great game knowledge as a key position type to me as well. Players like Kenno and Joffa (Dru Quinlan) had great game awareness and knowledge.
Who was the best ruckman you faced at BFL level?
Tim Little from Sunbury, we were similar in age and had some large battles. The other Stephenson, Travis from Darley taught me early days about the value of protecting yourself in ruck contests all the time.
Another premiership in 2003 and a club best and fairest was followed by a decorated VFL stint at North Ballarat where you played in a further three premierships. At what stage did you feel the AFL was a real prospect?
Probably the end of 2006, Gavin Crosisca had just been added as an assistant to Carlton under Denis Pagan. Michael Jamison and myself were invited to pre season training at Optus Oval.
Tell us about the lead up to the draft, how many clubs had spoken with you and how confident were you of being selected?
At the end of 2006, I nominated for the first time and this positioned me for the next three drafts to be eligible. Over the next three years I had a few conversations with different clubs including St Kilda, Carlton and North Melbourne.
I nominated again for the 2009 draft after doing some pre-season training down at Hawthorn. Once they didn't pick me I thought my opportunity had gone. Come the end 2011, my last year in the draft, going to an AFL club was the furthest thing from my mind, I had started a new job, my eldest child was off to high school.
Geelong recruiting guru Stephen Wells rang me ten days before the draft. He, Neil Balme and Stephen Hocking came to my house seven days before the draft and told me they were going to take me the following Thursday.
Describe the feeling when you saw Geelong read out your name at pick 78?
It was kept under wraps, only Geelong hierarchy, Whitney and I, Fitzy (Gerard Fitzgerald) knew. Until your name comes out you can't be 100% sure. I was very happy to finally get the opportunity to put full time effort into my footy.
Isaac Smith recently commented on our site that he sees merit in increasing the draft age. As the oldest first time AFL draftee, do you share his view?
I definitely do, a lot is expected from the young players. They need time to learn more outside of the school/home environment.
What was the biggest adjustment you faced in becoming an AFL player and was there a particular player who took you under their wing?
I think the biggest adjustment was the demands mentally. That is the 24/7 nature of being an AFL player. You analyse every part of your games. You then might be playing good footy but not getting an AFL game. That takes its toll.
You made your debut against Fremantle in Round 1 2012 and faced Aaron Sandilands in the ruck. What do you remember of the match and playing against one of the great ruckman of the modern era?
I remember he had a great ability below his knees, second and third efforts. I couldn't move him. I got the sit at a boundary throw in, nailed him in the hip and he hardly shifted.
Richmond gave you another opportunity after being let go by Geelong, what were some of your highlights with the Tigers and best memories being an AFL player?
Making my debut in Adelaide against Port and having my family there. I played a really strong game and we won. Being an emergency for the 2013 finals game against Carlton although frustrating, I was still close.
What was the best part of being an AFL footballer?
Lifestyle. I had gone from full time work and semi pro football to full-time footy. It allowed me more time with the kids, more time to do the little things.
You played under Chris Scott and Damien Hardwick, what was the main thing in common and biggest difference between the two?
Common: Match day coaching. Differences: Structures
Is there a ruckman you tried to emulate as you were coming up through the ranks and who do you consider as the greatest ruckman of all time?
Nope no one really, enjoyed how Cox at West Coast went about it.
How would you describe yourself as a player?
I would describe myself as a hard working teamplayer, love the contest.
You are back at North Ballarat playing VFL these days, what would you still like to achieve out of football before you hang up the boots?
Play finals again and get the best out of myself.
Do you have any ambitions to coach in the future and why do you think so few ruckmen have coached at AFL level?
I do have some ambitions to coach. As a playing coach at North it has been challenging but also rewarding when improvement is seen. AFL coaching is a tough gig, there aren't a lot of ruckman kicking around might be the reason for so few.
What has been your secret in terms of juggling family, work and football commitments all these years?
A very supportive wife!!
What advice would you have for all the junior ruckmen and women coming up through the Redan junior ranks?
As a ruckman don't just be happy to hit the ball, chase, tackle, follow up and have a presence all the time.
Pictured Runner Up to Matthew Walsh in 2003 Dalton/Bayly Medal but won the award in 2004.
2003 Grand Final
2002 Grand Final - players enter the field
2004 versus Melton South at City Oval
2002 Grand Final National Anthem
2002 Grand Final warm up