CHAMPION Richmond defender Alex Rance has announced his shock retirement, effective immediately.
Rance, a five-time All Australian key back, ruptured his ACL in round one of 2019, missing the year.
The 30-year-old has said he wishes to spend more time on his family and his religion.
A devout Jehovah's Witness, Rance nearly quit the game several years ago but decided to play on.
He will finish his football career on exactly 200 games and as a premiership player, having won the 2017 flag.
"It was really tough because I love those boys, I care about them a lot, but it's now time for me to look after my own happiness and growth," Rance said of breaking the news to his teammates.
"... I guess I didn't really deal with the underlying things in 2015 that were causing me that uncertainty.
"Just keep at it, invest more time and more energy and it did make me feel better but still underneath I felt uneasy.
"I was divided.
"I was split between two worlds but I don't regret a thing because I've learnt so much across the journey and met so many amazing people.
"But I wish I had've been more honest with myself to understand what makes me happy and what I need.
"The main focus of my life (now) is my spiritual growth ... to just devote more time and energy to that."
Club CEO Brendon Gale said Rance, who is contracted until the end of 2021, would remain on the list for the 2020 season.
"There's no compulsion to remove him off our list at this stage. The contract will be amended accordingly. He'll stay on the list at till the end of the year and then we'll deal with him," Gale said.
"It's no secret this has been a continuum. This is a life decision, he has priorities outside of football and balancing those has vexed him.
"Having said that, during that time he's been a very good player, we've won premierships and it's been magic. I just think since in the last month since returning (from the off-season break), and starting pre-season, it's become more concentrated and there's a sense of finality."
Rance was out at training as recently as Tuesday night, working with both the AFL and AFLW squads in a combined session.
He was extremely close to re-joining the main group after rehabilitating his knee, with fellow key back Dylan Grimes saying Rance was moving better than ever before.
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“Richmond will always hold a huge part in my heart.” 💛🖤— Richmond FC 🐯🏆 (@Richmond_FC) December 19, 2019
💬 Rancey’s message for the Tiger Army... pic.twitter.com/6CoMtcolkB
Skipper Trent Cotchin, who was drafted to the club at the same time as Rance, said the decision was a shock, but not a surprise.
"Every time he's at the footy club he gives his absolute best and spends a lot of energy on others and getting his game better," Cotchin said.
"There's a little bit of sadness there, but there's also – as 'Dimma' (coach Damien Hardwick) spoke about this morning – an opportunity for others. There's a hole there, much like last year when he went down with a knee injury, for other guys to grow and flourish.
"He was trying to be typical 'Rancey', with a bit of humour (when telling the players). He had his little nephew with him up the front as well. Clearly, family's a massive part of 'Tross' (Rance) and I think he handled himself really well."
Rance was named captain of the Virgin Australia AFL All Australian team in 2017, won Richmond's Jack Dyer Medal as the club's best and fairest in 2015 and has been vice-captain of the club since 2017.
After some shaky days early in his career, particularly with his disposal (which Hardwick fondly termed "Alex Rance moments"), the athletic player developed into the premier defender of the competition.
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Blessed with elite closing speed, strong hands and an excellent read on the play, Rance was for many years the "goalkeeper" of the Tiger defence, patrolling the last line of defence and saving the team countless times.
In his absence in 2019, Grimes stood up to play that role and did so with great aplomb, named an All-Australian defender himself at season's end.
He will once again be tasked with shouldering the team's defence, but now so on a permanent basis.
It's an understatement to say they're some big shoes to fill.