WHEN Shannon Hurn was announced as West Coast's new captain in December last year he was asked what type of captain he would like to be and without skipping a beat he said, "a premiership captain."
Few in the room at the time would have thought that he would be entering Saturday's Grand Final with an opportunity to achieve that goal in his first season as skipper.
Hurn's ascension to the Eagles' captaincy was equally swift. He was the most inconspicuous member of the Eagles' leadership group at the start of 2014.
Darren Glass was the long-standing captain with Scott Selwood and Josh Kennedy as his deputies.
But Glass' sudden retirement mid-year, combined with a long-term injury to Selwood, opened the door for an audition process where Kennedy, Hurn, Eric Mackenzie and Matt Priddis would rotate the captaincy duties for the remainder of 2014.
Teammate Mark LeCras said that opportunity brought out the best in Hurn.
"He's always been a really strong leader," LeCras told AFL.com.au.
"He probably wasn't as outgoing about the fact that he wanted to lead the group in the past couple of years, which is probably why he wasn't vice-captain.
"But he's always had the ability to be a really strong leader for us and once the position was made vacant by Glassy he probably saw himself as the ideal fit.
"He worked really hard on becoming a good leader and he's stepped into the role and done a great job this year. He's a well-rounded person. He's pretty level-headed, which is perfect for the role.
"I think he can read the playing group pretty well. He's obviously a great footballer, which helps. When he speaks the players listen. He doesn't speak when he doesn't need to. He's one of those blokes that the players want to follow."
But Hurn's leadership skills have not suddenly been developed overnight. Much of what he has learned and implemented at West Coast can be traced back to his teenage years before he was drafted.
Hurn was an incredibly talented junior sportsman in South Australia. He played in two SANFL premierships with Central District as a teenager in 2004 and 2005 and in the summer in between played in a SACA first grade premiership with Northern Districts. Centrals were in the midst of a dynasty, while Hurn shared a dressing room during the summer with Australian Test players Darren Lehmann, Graham Manou and Ryan Harris as a 17-year-old.
Hurn said he learned a great deal about leadership from those experiences.
"When you're a young kid, you don't float along as a young kid, it's just what you get used to," Hurn told AFL.com.au.
"But then you understand when you get older it is about the older blokes setting that standard and getting young kids to learn, but within a set of guidelines.
"I think as senior players it is so important that we dictate what we think is successful and what's not.
"You don't want to be robots and pigeon-hole people. You've just got to have some guidelines that you let blokes work in between. As long you have blokes taking ownership of what they're doing and taking personal responsibility you're always going to be fine."
Hurn said successful cultures aren't born from winning games – they're born from hard work.
"The main thing I got from Central District and cricket days was if you train really well and work really hard you naturally become a close-knit group and that's what I reckon we've been able to do," Hurn said.
"Some people are of the belief that once you start winning you become a close-knit group.
"I think it's the other way around. I think if you train really hard and you understand what you're trying to do, then you start winning."
What Hurn's teammates say
"He loves getting away from footy when he can and when he gets the opportunity.
"I'm a fairly similar personality away from footy and I love fishing and hunting as well, so we've got a connection there.
"He's definitely one of the most popular blokes at the footy club. He takes the young guys out to dinner, and I can't see anyone in the side who would be more perfect for the role.
"He's pretty low profile and that's his personality, a no-fuss sort of bloke. He does what needs to be done. A lot of the players have learnt from that."
"He's a natural leader in everything he does and he wants to get the best out of himself and help others as well.
"He finds the right balance between having fun and working hard. He's a terrific guy away from footy, which makes him easy to get along with.
"He works hard to get to know everybody, particularly the young kids when they come in.
"He's got the hairiest chest at the club but he's been bald since he was a kid."
"His team in under-15s was Shannon Hurn and the rest. He'd kick five or six goals from the midfield every week and he was just a man-child who could kick 70m.
"He's the kind of guy who's always thinking about not overstepping the mark.
"He thinks about people so much. I remember driving him around the first couple of weeks he arrived at West Coast and he'd say sorry about 20 times even though he lived around the corner from me.
"He apologised for every single thing to the point where it was getting really annoying. I had to say, 'Stop apologising for everything."
"He's always wanted to be the best person he can be."