Fighting Father Time - The lure of one more year

The lure to go around one more time must be strong.

As we watch Brendon Goddard come to terms with the fact his time as a professional footballer is more than likely over, there have been many over the years confronted with this same harsh reality. Some go out on their own terms, realising that their time in the game has come to an end. Others have a hand firmly planted in their back as they head towards the exit.

There are exceptions – those who were thought to be past their used by date, yet went around once, or twice more to the delight of those who supported them. Luke Hodge currently presides over the Brisbane Lions backline, and there is not many people who would question his decision to pull the boots back on after a storied career with the Hawks.

Tim Watson returned to the Bombers in 1993 after a year in “retirement”, and was an integral part in the Bombers’ push to the premiership, including a 5.3 haul against the Blues in Round 17.

Then there was Stuart Dew’s return to the AFL in 2008, with the plus-size footballer turning on an inspired patch in the Grand Final, rewarding the gamble of Alastair Clarkson.

And how about Peter Hudson? After two years home in Tasmania, he returned to Hawthorn to notch the lazy 110 goals in 1977.

But for every one of those players who make it work, there are those who just can’t get it all together for one more tilt at the big time. We’ve all heard the saying that is trotted out when someone can no longer keep up.

“The game has gone past them,” people will say as the former stars of the game fail to reach the heights expected of them.

Their bodies betray them. Their reactions are slowed. The years of physical beatings and long, painful recoveries from injury have taken their toll, and these players – champions of the game – look like shadows of their former selves.

Have you ever sat there at dinner and ordered an extra course because you think you can handle it? You’ve had a great meal, and you should be very satisfied, but you think you might just be able to fit a little more in. The food was so good, you just want an extra helping. You order your additional food and when it gets there, you start to realise it’s a little too much for you. Some of you might fight through, shovelling mouthful after mouthful into your gullet, but you’re no longer enjoying it; you’re just trying to get through. You’re just struggling to finish.

We watch with interest as Shane Mumford looks set to resume an AFL career with the Greater Western Sydney Giants - one has to wonder whether his comeback story will be one of triumph, or disappointment? Will he add his name to the players above, who returned after an absence and made the most of it, or will he have ordered a few snags too many to handle?

The players below had superb AFL careers. Some may be ranked amongst the greatest to have ever pulled on a jumper, but at a point in their career, they ordered one course too many. They were the ones sitting there, exhaling loudly as they struggled to get to the finish line. Some even downed utensils, realising their decision to have one more crack wasn’t the wisest.

Rene Kink

The Incredible Hulk always struggled with his weight. In this day and age, he’d be well supported by dieticians and fitness experts, but in the early 1980’s, Kink was required to front up to training and then was free to go about his business. He was a star of the game – a powerhouse with the ability to tear games open in minutes. In 1979, he slammed home 54 goals for the Pies, but in 1983, he played just eight games before being transferred to Essendon mid-season (yep, look it up), where he played in their losing Grand Final side.

It was as though the transfer was the foot in the backside Kink required at the time. After notching just 12 goals in the eight games at Collingwood, Kink had 16 in his first four games as a Bomber.

A serious knee injury saw him miss the entirety of the ’84 season, and when he fronted up in 1985, it was apparent Kink was no longer the pack-busting monster he once was. 11 goals from 19 games was a far cry from what fans were used to seeing. Coupled with the fact that he failed to hit the 20-disposal mark once that season, the writing was well and truly on the wall.

But that wouldn’t stop St Kilda from rolling the dice on the big fella. Ever-eager to sign players who were past their prime, they signed Kink for the 1986 season. He played just seven games, averaging just on ten touches per game, and totalled five goals for the year. It was to be his last season.

Kink was one of my favourite players as a child, inasmuch as I loved to hate him. He had the ability to capture the imagination of kids, and was unlike any player in the league. He was a beast, a powerhouse with agility and a mean streak as well. His decline was rapid, but like a fish dragged on board a boat after a struggle, he flipped and flopped a bit late in his career, but it amounted to very little.

 

Doug Hawkins

Many will tell you that stats do not tell an accurate story. Others will tell you that numbers simply do not lie. Looking at Doug Hawkins, it’s hard to argue that the numbers didn’t indicate that he should’ve pulled the pin after the 1994 season.

To long-term fans of the Dogs, there was nothing more exciting than seeing ‘Hawk’ on the run down the wing of the Western Oval. His run and carry, and long, penetrating kicks into the forward 50 gave his forwards every chance. Hawk was a lad – a knockabout boy from Braybrook who would leave opponents in his dust when he grabbed the ball and took off. At this stage, he was second only to Ted Whitten in the hearts of Bulldog fans, but by the end of the 1993 season, Hawkins was starting to struggle.

The pace that was once a Hawkins trademark had started to desert him in the wake of knee issues, and with Father Time gaining quickly, Hawkins’ days as a star in the league were numbered.

In 1994, this was painfully apparent, as Hawkins was held to single digits in disposals on eight occasions. He was held under 15 disposals on 16 occasions, but the Dogs did the right thing, keeping their spiritual leader in the side as he became the games record holder for the club.

At the end of 1994, it was the right time for Hawkins to retire, but the pull of playing professional footy was too much for him. Sadly, the doors of the Whitten Oval were closed to Hawkins, and as such, he made his way to the struggling Fitzroy Lions.

He played in just two wins of the 21 games in 1995 with Fitzroy. Though Hawkins’ own performances were commendable, he was playing in a team that just 12 months later would cease to exist. They were on life support in 1995 – a team without a future. It was a year where Hawkins was biding his time, reluctant to give up what he once had, yet no longer possessing the tools to get back to that level.

He should’ve left his last game in red, white and blue.

 

Peter McKenna

After 12 years in black and white, Peter McKenna was a Collingwood icon. A century goal-kicker in three straight years, McKenna was the poster boy for the black and white army, and had only Peter Hudson as his contemporary at the time.

Yet, in 1975, McKenna managed just 10 games for the Pies as he was dropped to the reserves due to poor form. In the seconds, he suffered a kidney injury that ended his season. McKenna then left the VFL for Tasmania, where he kicked 79 goals for Devonport.

McKenna then gave the big time another crack in 1977, but the Pies were not willing to shell out the big bucks to re-sign him. Instead, McKenna signed with Carlton, tearing the hearts out of many Collingwood supporters. He finished with 36 goals from his 11 games as a Blue, but it was clear that he was no longer the force he once was.

McKenna then moved to the VFA where he played for several teams

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Mick McGuane

“Phil Manassa stuff by Micky McGuane!” screamed an excited commentator as the Collingwood midfielder took seven bounces and nailed one of the greatest goals of all time against the hated enemy.

Yet just three years later, McGuane was pulling on the navy blue jumper, joining Carlton after reportedly rejecting a two year deal with the Pies. McGuane would add just three games to his total with Carlton. In those games, he cracked double digit possessions just once, with 10 against Essendon on debut.

He should’ve been a Pie for life.

 

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Alex Jesaulenko

I’m not sure there was a bigger shock in my young life as a fan than hearing Alex Jesaulenko had joined St Kilda. To me, Jezza was Carlton. He was the one standing on the dais holding he premiership cup, with that big, cheesy moustache doing a terrible job of concealing a huge smile of satisfaction. He was the one whose name Carlton fans screamed when they tried to jump on my back in the school yard. He was the one on the WEG posters after the Blues won the flag.

How could Jezza NOT be a Blue?

With one of Jezza’s biggest supporters leaving the club (President, George Harris departed the club at the conclusion of the 1979 season) the time was right for Jesaulenko to move on as well. He was dissatisfied with the way things were handled at Carlton, and made the move before anyone could push. This, despite the Blues sitting as the reigning premiers.

Jezza played 23 games for the Saints over two seasons, and was appointed their playing coach when Mike Patterson was sacked in Round 2 of the 1980 season. Sounds like the Saints were in a bit of disarray at the time, huh?

Jezza would return to Carlton as interim coach in 1989, but his time at St Kilda left a sour taste in the mouths of many Blues fans.

 

Nicky Winmar

It makes me sad when you see a legend of a club donning other colours, but that’s what occurred in 1999, when Nicky Winmar pulled on a Western Bulldogs jumper for the final year of his AFL life.

When you remember Winmar, the image of  the proud indigenous star, lifting his jumper and pointing to his skin at Victoria Park immediately comes to mind. Lifting his St Kilda jumper.

Winmar was serviceable for the Dogs, notching just over a goal per game, but he was restricted to just 11 touches per game. For context, prior to that season, Winmar’s lowest disposal output was 17.10 touches per game in 1988.

It was a clear indication that Nicky’s time in the game had passed.

 

Dermott Brereton

You’d be hard-pressed to find a bigger Dermott Brereton fan than I was in the late 80’s and early 90’s. I had this bloke’s poster on my wall, and actually shelled out for a signed picture from that Superstars and Legends shop… I’m still not sure it’s legit.

Anyway, low-balled by the Hawks at the end of 1993, Derm took his talents to Sydney for the 1994 season.

Sadly, I think there was a mix up with the baggage handlers at Sydney airport, as those talents didn’t seem to follow him there. After being restricted to just six games in ‘93 at Hawthorn, Derm appeared in only seven for the Swans in ‘94. With career low numbers almost across the board as part of the struggling Sydney team, Brereton was simply in no position to have a good year.

He experienced a mini-renaissance at Collingwood in 1995, providing strong protection for the developing Sav Rocca, but after giving so much to the Hawks for so many years, Derm had very little to give in Sydney. A year off footy all together may have served him better.

 

Tony Lockett

There are not many low points in the career or Tony Lockett, and this is a point that should never have occurred.

After two years out of the game, the football world was set abuzz with the news that Plugger was returning to footy. The year was 2002, and the last time Tony Lockett graced AFL fields, he’d kicked 82 goals for the Swans. Looking to add to his record-breaking tally of 1357 goals, Plugger pulled the boots back on and Sydney prepared to get excited about footy again.

Like Michael Jordan’s tenure in Washington, Plugger’s return to footy was inglorious. But at least Jordan had some big games along the way to experiencing mediocrity. Also like Jordan’s time in Washington, Plugger’s return to footy is not often spoken about. It’s better to concentrate on the highs.

Lockett managed just three games in his comeback bid, and failed to look even remotely like the man who dominated the full forward position for years prior. In his three games in 2002, Lockett managed seven disposals, one mark and three goals – total.

Let’s break that down. He averaged 2.33 touches, 0.33 marks and 1 goal per contest. Hardly stats befitting a player of his status. It’d take more than just those three woeful games to tarnish the career of Tony Lockett. However, he was the perfect case of wanting one more chance to shine, but the rust developed over his time away was just too thick.

 

Whilst I am sure these players did what they had to do at the time, and it may have felt right at that moment, I wonder how many would make a different decision if they had their time over again. Winmar, Jezza, Hawkins and McKenna as one club players – many Saints, Carlton, Bulldogs and Magpies supporters see them that way anyway. It’d be nice if it were true.

Looking at Goddard right now, he finishes his final year in the game having played all 22 games and averaging over 22 disposals per game for the Bombers. He may not like it at the moment, feeling he has a bit to offer, but I am sure McGuane, Winmar and Kink felt that way too going into the years they shouldn’t have played.

In the years to come, ending Goddard’s AFL run now might be something he deems as a wise move.

 

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