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Footy's retiring greats remind us of what's really important

Carlton's Chris Judd in action during the 2014 AFL Round 16 match between the Carlton Blues and the St Kilda Saints at Etihad Stadium, Melbourne on July 06, 2014. (Photo: Greg Ford/AFL Media)
Will Chris Judd join a long list of champions calling it quits in 2014?
SIX BIG AFL names have announced retirements this year, four of them instant and two to take effect at the end of the season.
 
There are more to come. Two all-time greats could soon join the list, and at least a half-dozen genuine club champions are also deeply considering their remaining time in football.
 
A great player’s exit announcement is always accompanied by fan disappointment, often with a yearning to turn back time to the memories which are most vivid.
 
As Lenny Hayes last week called it quits, people immediately recalled his personal heroics of the final quarter of the 2010 drawn Grand Final.
 
As the less-talented but equally impactful Nick Maxwell did the same, people recalled the same quarter of the same game, and of the manner in which the then-Collingwood captain used uncharacteristic flair to keep his side alive.
 
When Dean Cox made his announcement this week, his body of work - all 286 games during 14 seasons of toil - was being hailed as either the greatest of the modern-day ruckmen, or second only to Simon Madden.
 
When the banged-up body, and head, of Jonathan Brown forced him to an immediate exit earlier in the year, we all lamented the fact we would never see anything like him again on AFL field. And wasn’t it great to see yet more replays of that stupid-courageous mark at the MCG?

A beaming Lenny Hayes shares his retirement announcement with his family. Picture: AFL Media

 


There have been few better West Australian players than Darren Glass since the AFL introduced Perth to its mix in 1987, and Port Adelaide people will forever laud the impact that Dom Cassisi had on their club and lives.
 
Supporters of Adelaide and Carlton respectively are grateful for having had Ben Rutten and Heath Scotland part of their clubs for more than 10 years.
 
Hayes, Brown, Glass, Maxwell and Cassisi all captained their clubs.
 
That’s a lot of captains exiting the AFL system in one hit, and four more could follow. Chris Judd is, at best, a 50-50 chance to play in 2015. Adam Goodes wants to enter a 17th season, but his knees might not allow him. Chris Newman is considering options. Luke Ball is struggling.
 
Dustin Fletcher wants to play on, and maybe deserves from whoever will be in charge at Essendon the right to enter 2015 and thus reach 400 games.
 
Corey Enright is line-ball. Ryan O'Keefe seems certain to finish. His teammate Rhyce Shaw may walk. Luke McPharlin is very close to the end. This may be Brad Sewell's last year, so too Brock McLean.
 
If Judd and Goodes join the big six who have already called time in 2014, it will leave a massive hole in AFL playing ranks.
 
It would also open discussion about which group of retirees was better, the 2007 crop or the 2014 batch.
 
Back then, Mark Ricciuto, Nathan Buckley, James Hird, Anthony Koutoufides, Glenn Archer and Chris Grant departed football. Amongst them were Brownlows, three Norm Smiths, 28 All-Australian nominations, 18 best-and-fairest titles and 32 seasons of captaincy.

Mark Ricciuto sheds a tear after his final game for Adelaide in the 2007 Elimination Final. Picture: AFL Media





If Judd and Goodes are added to Brown, Glass, Hayes, Cox, Maxwell and Cassisi, there will be a combined four Brownlows, two Norm Smiths, 26 All-Australian nominations, 18 best-and-fairest awards and 30 years of captaincy.
 
Maybe the 2007 crop would just get the nod. Maybe.
 
Issues which dominate a season such as the near-weekly match review panel shocker, the confusion around umpire interpretations, goal-line cameras, drugs, the fixture, supplement programs, who's coaching Essendon in 2015, the price of a pie at Etihad Stadium, Stephen Dank's latest sporties night mumbo-jumbo, cost-of-living allowances and Levi Casboult's beard don't matter when we line them up against the ended careers of the greats.
 
While we often feel at the time of a great player's exit that we will never again see the like or type of him, and maybe not have reason to love footy in the future as much as we might have in the past, we actually will.
 
In the same year Buckley and co. departed, Joel Selwood, Jack Riewoldt, Tom Hawkins, Travis Boak and Kieren Jack started.
 
This season as we farewell Brown and Hayes and others, we’ve said hello to Marcus Bontempelli, Kade Kolodjashnij, Luke McDonald, Jack Billings, James Aish, Tom Boyd and Josh Kelly.
 
When greats retire, it is always poignant. But it is also special, because it forces us to reflect on what this game is really about.
 
Twitter: @barrettdamian