PREMIERSHIP Bulldog Clay Smith's horror run with knee injuries has forced him to retire from AFL football, effective immediately.
The 25-year-old is yet to play a game this season due to ongoing issues with his right knee, which he's had reconstructed three times since his debut in 2012.
Smith's nose for a goal and fierce attack on the ball made him a key member of the 2016 flag-winning side, but the forward's troublesome knee has only allowed him to play eight senior games since the Dogs lifted the cup.
He kicked eight goals and averaged 18 disposals in the four 2016 finals, including four goals and 26 possessions in the preliminary final win over GWS.
Smith told westernbulldogs.com.au it was tough to call time on a once-promising career.
"It was a very difficult decision for me to retire at my age, but the right one to make given my knee hasn't been able to fully recover,” Smith said.
"I've given everything to try to make it back this season, but unfortunately it hasn't worked out the way I would've liked.
"I want to thank everyone at the Western Bulldogs for their support over my career, and especially the medical staff, physios and strength and rehab staff for their care and professionalism.
"It's been a difficult road for me, but I was able to experience being in the premiership team and I wouldn't swap that for anything.
"I've also met some great people, made some incredible friendships, and I'm grateful to have had the opportunity to play AFL football.
"While life without footy will leave a big hole in my life, it has shaped me as a person and helped me grow and I'm thankful for that."
Recruited with pick 17 in the 2011 NAB AFL Draft, the Gippsland Power product didn't take long to show the Bulldog faithful what he had to offer, with his four-goal performance in round one, 2012 one of the most memorable debuts for the club in recent times.
While he wasn't the most reliable kick, Smith had an insatiable appetite for the contest and that hardness around the footy will see him go down as one of the Bulldogs' toughest servants.
Smith will depart Whitten Oval with 55 games and 43 goals to his name, but he will also take the respect of the whole club.
He had already begun working as an electrician in recent months, preparing for his transition to life after football.
"It has been emotional time for all of us because Clay is such an admired and loved person around the place, and it's sad his career has come to an end at just 25 years of age," senior coach Luke Beveridge said.
"To have the mental application and strength to work through all the setbacks he's had to deal with has been inspirational to watch and his teammates have been motivated by his determination.
"He should be so proud of what he did to overcome all of his challenges, and content that he will always be a Western Bulldogs premiership player.
"We will miss him dearly when he leaves the building, but we will always be connected."