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Podcast: The legendary talent spotter

Imagine a world where Gavin Brown had been pushed away from Collingwood for being too timid. Or Peter Daicos played for South Melbourne.

That’s the world full of sliding doors moments inhabited by Collingwood's most famous coach of young men, Keith Burns. And as Burns tells the latest episode of the Collingwood Conversations podcast, both of those unimaginably horrible events nearly happened.

"When (Browny) came to us he was very very thin – he was as thin as a pencil," Burns says. "And I nearly didn't put him on our list. We were playing a practice match against Hawthorn …and I said to (Development Manager) Ian Flack, 'I think he's a bit timid'. Then all of a sudden in the last quarter he went where angels fear to tread. And I realised, he's not scared: he just lacks confidence in his own body."

Burns recalls how Daicos wanted to move to South partly because they were his boyhood club, and partly because he felt he wasn't getting enough opportunities at Victoria Park. "But there was no way known that was going to happen … he had so much natural talent."

After a playing career at Collingwood that saw him just miss out on the 1958 Grand Final after an ill-timed injury, but gain a spot in the 1960 decider, Burns went to Sandringham in the VFA where he won a Liston Trophy and became a coach at just 23 years of age.

He returned to Collingwood in the late 1970s to coach the under-19s, and later took charge of the Northern Knights in the TAC Cup.

He guided the under-19s to a flag in 1986, but more importantly four stars of that team – Mick McGuane, Damian Monkhorst, Gavin Brown and Gavin Crosisca – went on to form the core of the senior side that ended the Colliwobbles in 1990. Keith shares some revealing insights into what those four players were like as young recruits.

Almost half the senior team playing on that historic October day in 1990 had played under Burns, giving him a stronger connection to the drought-breaking flag than most. Indeed many consider him to have been the man who 'built' the 1990 flag list. But typically, Burns's thoughts were only of the club.

"Being a Collingwood person – I'd always barracked for the club even when I was a kid – I was highly elated. I went down to the rooms to just stand in the race to see them all as they came in. That was just an exhilarating experience, to see how joyous they were about winning a premiership for Collingwood. It was a momentous occasion."

Interestingly, Keith also reveals that Leigh Matthews sat down with him at the end of 1986 and ranked the 10 players Leigh felt were most likely to make it from that year's under-19s crop. Gavin Brown only made it in at number No. 10, with the enigmatic but gifted Athas Hrysoulakis ranked at No. 1.

In total, more than 100 of the young men who came under his guidance at Collingwood and the Knights went on to play senior football.

Burns makes no secret of his favourite from that bunch – Gavin Brown – but he has also put together a list of the Top 10 players to have come through his junior teams. That list makes for very interesting listening.

He also speaks candidly about why some others didn't make it, and reveals 'the one that got away'. It's compelling listening from one of Collingwood's greatest football servants.

Gavin Brown was one of the many who began their Collingwood careers under Keith Burns' watchful eye before progressing to senior football.