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Luke's long road: McPharlin celebrates 250 games

GOLD COAST, AUSTRALIA - JUNE 13: Luke McPharlin of the Dockers in action during the 2015 AFL round eleven match between the Gold Coast Suns and the Fremantle Dockers at Metricon Stadium, Gold Coast on June 13, 2015. (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Media)
Luke McPharlin plays his 250th game for the Dockers against his former side on Sunday
He performs consistently and he's had a wonderful career that's still going
Ross Lyon on Luke McPharlin

LUKE McPharlin says he would not have made it to 50 games, let alone 250, without the help of Fremantle physio Jeff Boyle.

The 2012 All Australian has quietly crept up on the 250-game milestone after nearly retiring at the end of last season.

McPharlin will achieve it against Hawthorn in Launceston on Sunday, the club that first drafted him in 1999.

After playing just 12 games in his first two years at the Hawks, McPharlin was traded to Fremantle in a famous deal that also sent Trent Crowd west and gave the Hawks picks No.1, 20 and 36 in the star-studded 2001 NAB AFL draft.

McPharlin had endured significant problems with osteitis pubis during his first couple of years in AFL footy, and said Boyle had been pivotal in getting him through 16 AFL seasons.

"I didn't think I'd get to 50 (games) actually," McPharlin said earlier this week. 

"We were joking about it. He was concerned I wouldn't get to 50 games. So to get to 250 has certainly exceeded his and my expectations.

"He was instrumental. He seemed to be well ahead of the game in terms of his understanding of osteitis pubis.

"He had some really good understanding of that condition and how to manage it. Thankfully I haven't missed a game with that condition since.

"It's all been just soft tissue and a couple of knees. So he's been instrumental in my career, and I owe a lot to him."

Boyle remains a key figure for McPharlin. The Dockers' physio, along with coach Ross Lyon, football operations manager Chris Bond and the strength and conditioning staff, were all heavily involved in the discussions to try and extend McPharlin's career after he considered retirement at the end of 2014.

McPharlin said the decision to play on had been a good one so far, and Lyon agreed given the injuries that Zac Dawson (broken thumb), Michael Johnson (hamstring) and Alex Silvagni (hamstring) have suffered this year. 

The veteran defender has only missed two games this year, and has been carefully managed in light of the soft tissue injuries that have kept him out of two of the last three finals series.

"It was really around management of strength and endurance through the calves," McPharlin said.

"Through the seasons previously I have allowed that strength to deteriorate through the season, because you are quite sore post game and you find it quite hard to push the leg weights.

"There has been a real focus on keeping and maintaining some real strength through the season. I have to back off a little bit of training and do a little bit more running off to the side. It allows me to stay fresh and healthy and push large numbers in the gym."

Lyon feels Fremantle's injury toll in defence has been undersold, adding McPharlin's influence on the Dockers' team is profound.

"He's a very good leader," Lyon said on Friday.  

"He's significant. His ability to win one-on-one contests and shut down the lead is really impressive. He's a big influencer. He performs consistently and he's had a wonderful career that's still going."

McPharlin said he hardly thinks about the trade that got him to Fremantle. Picks No.1 and No.36 in that 2001 NAB AFL draft yielded the Hawks two future premiership captains in Luke Hodge and Sam Mitchell, while Croad went back to Hawthorn after just 38 games with the Dockers and played in the 2008 premiership.

McPharlin said he has no regrets.

"The decision to come back to Perth was a big one," McPharlin said.

"But ultimately I was very satisfied with the decision in the end.

"Certainly early days, coming back you were sort of thinking about whether you made the right one. But in hindsight I haven't really thought about it in the last few years, given that it has been such an incredibly long amount of time since I played football for Hawthorn.

"I think most people probably don't even remember."