St Kilda great Nathan Burke. Picture: AFL Media

Nathan Burke's first thought after hearing from AFL Commission chairman Richard Goyder to congratulate him on his induction into the Australian Football Hall of Fame was the same as many over the journey to have received the same phone call.

Why me?

Burke played with some magnificent footballers at St Kilda during the 1990s when the Saints were a very good team.


Goalkicking record-holder Tony Lockett is a Legend. Dual Brownlow medallist Robert Harvey was a first-choice inductee in 2012. And there are others who haven't yet made it and it doesn’t sit all that comfortably with him.

"I'm extremely honoured," he said.

"There's some pretty good players in there and you are humbled to be part of it.

"But it's a bit daunting as well. There are some players I played with who absolutely should be in there – Stewart Loewe, Nicky Winmar, Danny Frawley – and you start to think maybe I don't deserve it as much as them."

Burke was a hard-working, prolific midfielder through 323 games for the Saints between 1987 and 2003. But he laughed when asked to describe how Burke the coach would scout Burke the player.

"I had seven coaches in my career and every time I had a new one, they'd move me to the backline,” he said.

"But after half a season or so, I'd move back to the midfield and it would go from there.

"Hopefully I was one of those players who, when you went to pick the team, the magnet just got put up there straight away.

"The reason why is because you know what you are going to get out of that player and that player is consistent and you might be able to use that player in a few different spots."

St Kilda great Nathan Burke. Picture: AFL Media

By his own admission, Burke was gifted a few games early in his career by his first coach Darrel Baldock. Teammate Ken Sheldon then became coach and he encouraged Burke to set his sights on becoming more than a "good, ordinary player".

Part of that was a permanent move to the midfield and the other part was to do something about the head knocks that were forcing him to spend too much time on the bench.

Burke wasn't getting regularly concussed, but knocks to the head were causing him to get migraines, so from 1992 he wore a helmet.

"It wasn't something I wanted to do, but when it's put to you that you either wear a helmet or you won't be able to play football, then you have no choice," he said.

St Kilda great Nathan Burke. Picture: AFL Media

It might have helped his football because he was at his best through the middle part of the decade.

In 1996, he came second in the Brownlow Medal in what was the most logjammed leaderboard imaginable. James Hird, Michael Voss and the ineligible Corey McKernan finished tied on 21, with Burke and Chris Grant a vote behind. Garry Hocking was one vote further back.

It was one of a few 'if onlys' of his career. There was the 1997 Grand Final in which the Saints blew a 13-point half-time lead to Adelaide, but he maintains the one that got away from St Kilda might have been in 1991 when Lockett booted nine goals in the elimination final against Geelong but lost by seven points.

Thanks to a flawed finals system, the fourth-placed Saints were eliminated from the finals.

But he loved 1990s footy all the same.

"One-on-one contests. You knew on the Tuesday who you were going to line up on the weekend. That was your opponent. And you got judged on whether or not that opponent beat you,"he said.

St Kilda great Nathan Burke. Picture: AFL Media

Burke has enjoyed a great football life. In addition to a Hall of Fame-worthy playing career, he has worked in the media and was a member of the old Match Review Panel.

But the satisfaction he gains from his current role as the Western Bulldogs' AFLW coach matches what fulfilled him from his playing days or anything subsequent.

"I look back when I was 17 or 18 and wanted to make my way into the League and there are so many people wanting to do the same," he said.

"I wouldn't say it has reinvigorated my love for footy – I have always loved it – but it has reinvigorated my excitement for footy."

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 29: Nathan Burke, Head Coach of the Bulldogs and daughter Alice Burke of the Saints embrace after the 2021 AFLW Round 01 match between the St Kilda Saints and the Western Bulldogs at RSEA Park on January 29, 2021 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos)

Fact file

Nathan Burke
Club: St Kilda
Born: February 6, 1970
Recruited from: Pines (Vic)
Playing career: 1987-2003
Games: 323
Goals: 124
Player honours: best and fairest 1993, 1996, 1999; All-Australian 1993, 1996, 1997, 1999; captain 1996-2000; Victorian representative (11 games); St Kilda Team of the Century.

Career record

  • 323 games for St Kilda 1987-2003, 124 goals
  • 11 games for Victoria
  • 3x Best and Fairest 1993 1996 1999
  • 4x All Australian 1993 1996 1997 1999
  • St Kilda Team of the Century
  • Captain 1996-2000