AFL: The class of 2012

Most AFL players want to play forever. However, there comes a point in time where the stars of yesteryear realise that they are no longer capable of meeting the demands that come with playing at the highest level. At the conclusion of each AFL season, several loyal servants announce their retirements from the game. They now look to the next chapter of their lives after years of commitment and sacrifice to make a career out of the sport they worship.

Many are already saying that Matthew Scarlett is the greatest full back of all time. On a weekly basis for well over a decade, he would take the opposition’s best full forward and considerably limit their impact. These names include the likes of Lance Franklin, Brendan Fevola, Fraser Gehrig, Matthew Lloyd and Matthew Richardson. Debuting in 1998, he would become an automatic selection from 2000. Very few modern-day full backs have managed to win their club best and fairest award, seeing as the AFL is predominantly a midfielder’s game. However, Scarlett would do so in 2003, winning the Carji Greeves Medal after a breakout season. He leaves the game on 284 games, with three premiership medallions and a staggering six All-Australian selections.

Another Geelong defender farewelling Kardina Park is David Wojcinksi. Following his debut in 1999, he provided the Cats with explosive run off half-back. The 203-game player was a member of three Geelong premiership winning teams in 2007, 2009 and 2011. Injury affected his fitness in 2008, which saw him left out of the Grand Final loss to Hawthorn. He will be best remembered for his run and carry out of Geelong’s backline during its golden era as a dynasty. Simon Hogan, a teammate of both Scarlett and Wojcinski, retires at just 24-years-old. He spent six seasons with the club from 2007 for only 22 games, largely due to injury, illness and the conquering midfield of Geelong made it difficult for him to earn a regular appearance.

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David Wojcinski and Matthew Scarlett enjoying a training session this year. (Picture: Tony Kerrigan, Geelong Advertiser).

Collingwood supporters had high expectations of Chris Tarrant, following his first-round selection in the 1997 National Draft. He partnered up with Anthony Rocca to lead Collingwood’s forward line into the 2000s and would take out the club’s goalkicking on five consecutive occasions from 2001-05. Capable of taking an impressive high-flying mark, he won the 2003 Mark of the Year Award when he sat on the shoulders of Matthew Scarlett in the goal square. Tarrant would leave Collingwood at the end of 2006 to Fremantle, where he relished the opportunity of playing as a key defender. In 2011, he returned to Collingwood and played in his third losing Grand Final with the club.

Mark McVeigh was also a first-round selection after being recruited by Essendon with pick No.8 in the 1998 National Draft. In only his third year in the system, he helped the Bombers get to the 2001 Grand Final against the Brisbane Lions. He had the ability to play anywhere around the ground, whether that be down back, in the midfield or up forward. McVeigh was a fine tagger throughout his long career. It was due to his competitive and tough nature as a footballer that made it demanding for his opponents to get themselves into the game. He was unfortunately hampered by injuries this season and retired on 232 games for his beloved Bombers.

Brad Green almost tasted premiership success in his first year at the Melbourne Football Club. The young 19-year-old from Tasmania played in the 2000 Grand Final loss to an unrelenting Essendon outfit. He would become a regular for the Demons in the forward line and later as a midfielder, playing 254 games and kicking 350 goals. His standout year was in 2010, winning the club best and fairest award, the Keith ‘Bluey’ Truscott Medal, and topping the club’s goalkicking. His hard work and loyal service was rewarded when he was appointed captain in 2011.

Playing alongside Green for most of his career was Cameron Bruce. Bruce also debuted in 2000 and was a valuable member in the side’s march to September. Unfortunately, injury prevented him from playing in the Grand Final. He quickly proved himself as a quality utility at Melbourne, finishing runner-up in the best and fairest in 2002 and 2006. That elusive Keith ‘Bluey’ Truscott Medal would come his way in 2008. Also in that year, he and James McDonald were named co-captains following the retirement of club legend David Neitz. He spent his last two seasons with Hawthorn, managing only 10 games due to a serious back injury.

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Brad Green, Cameron Bruce and Brent Moloney singing the song after a Melbourne victory. (Picture: Ryan Pierse, Getty Images).

Taken at pick No.1 by Collingwood in the 1999 National Draft was Josh Fraser. The big ruckman showed signs early on, but took a while to establish himself as a senior ruckman. He played in both Collingwood’s losing Grand Finals to Brisbane in 2002 and 2003, and missed out on the 2010 premiership win over Geelong. After 200 games with the Magpies, he took the No.1 ruck position at the Gold Coast Suns in its inaugural year of 2011.

Two of the most underrated players of the 2000s spent their final season with the new expansion team; the GWS Giants. Luke Power and James McDonald provided the young side with much-needed experience on and off the playing field. A quiet achiever during his tenure with the Brisbane Lions, Power played 282 games and was a vital part of the historic three successive premierships from 2001-03. Blessed with brilliant skills, the reliable midfielder was also handy in front of goals, finishing on 226 for his career. He also had the honour of co-captaining the Lions from 2007-08 and reached the 300-game milestone for the Giants against Melbourne in Round 21, where he was co-captain in the club’s opening year. McDonald was a hard and nuggetty inside midfielder with the Melbourne Football Club. A club captain, two-time best and fairest winner and an uncompromising tagger, he spent 14 seasons with the Demons after being drafted late in the 1996 Rookie Draft and would go on to play 264 games, including 13 for the Giants.

Michael Doughty would also come through the Rookie Draft into the AFL with the Adelaide Crows. A reliable rebounding backman and useful tagger in the midfielder, Doughty consistently held his spot week in, week out throughout his 231-game career. Another successful Rookie Draft story is that of Josh Drummond, who was selected by the Brisbane Lions with pick No.47 in 2003. Drummond had enormous potential and skill, but his career was severely tarnished by injury. A lovely left-footer across Brisbane’s back half, he could only manage 94 games over eight seasons. Fellow Lion teammate, Amon Buchanan also joins Drummond in retirement. Drafted at pick No.52 by the Sydney Swans in the 2000 National Draft, he was delisted at the end of the 2003 AFL season after failing to find form due to injury. Buchanan was redrafted by the Swans the following year and played the game of his life in the 2005 Grand Final to help Sydney edge out the West Coast Eagles in a thriller. He then moved to Brisbane at the conclusion of the 2009 season, but couldn’t find a regular spot in the team.

Lindsay Gilbee and Ryan Hargrave were two of the best ball users by foot in the competition during their playing days. Both Gilbee and Hargrave spent their careers in the backline for the Western Bulldogs, playing over 200 games each. They set up the play in the Bulldogs’ defensive half and consistently hit their targets. Gilbee was best remembered for his long kicks on the run for goal from outside 50 and being named as a back pocket in the 2006 All-Australian team, while Hargrave was noted for providing solid rebound from defence. Also retiring from the Western Bulldogs is Nathan Djerrkura, after 21 games over two seasons with the club. Prior to moving to Whitten Oval, the young indigenous player was starved of opportunities at Geelong. He would only take the field on four occasions from 2007-10.

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Lindsay Gilbee and Ryan Hargrave reminiscing on their fine careers with the Western Bulldogs. (Picture: Getty Images).

One of the fastest players of the modern era was Chance Bateman. The indigenous wingman gave Hawthorn solid service over his 177 games. A crowd favourite when he had his dreadlocks, Bateman was rewarded with a premiership medallion in 2008. Another indigenous player departing the AFL scene is Antoni Grover of the Fremantle Dockers. He was an honest key-position defender throughout his 202-game career and had the ability to take an uplifting contested mark in pressure situations.

Kelvin Moore’s career with the Richmond Football Club was sadly riddled by injuries. A courageous and versatile player, he showed a lot of promise as a key-position backman prior to rigorously injuring his hip in 2010, which saw him watching from the sidelines for almost two years. He returned in mid-2012 to play three games before announcing his retirement with Brad Miller. Before coming to Richmond as a rookie in 2011, Miller played 133 games for Melbourne over nine seasons at both ends of the ground. He was a beautiful set shot for goal, winning Melbourne’s leading goalkicking award with 26 in 2008.

Although they wish their time wasn’t up, the retirees of 2012 have made invaluable contributions to the game and enjoyed lengthy and successful careers in the process. As the journey of one AFL player comes to an end, another begins for a young and upcoming superstar of the game.

Mitchell Wood is a first-year Bachelor of Sport Journalism student at La Trobe University. You can follow him on Twitter: @Mitchell_Woody

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