ESSENDON veteran Michael Hurley has announced he will be retiring at the end of this season, with the favourite son to play a farewell game on Saturday night against Richmond.
The two-time All-Australian defender has battled a courageous fightback since suffering a life-threatening hip infection on the eve of last season.
His career looked over last year before gradually making a return in his training before stepping things up to play in the past five VFL games. He has been pushing for a farewell game for the Bombers in the club's season-ending clash with Richmond on Saturday night at the MCG, with the club confirming he will be selected.
WHO'S CALLED IT QUITS 2022's retirements and delistings
The veteran had some parting words for his club, pleading with the Bombers' new leadership to provide stability as they contemplate a third senior coach in four years.
Hurley admitted it was hard to see the club on shaky ground again.
"For me there's an element of frustration. I know throughout my career I've craved a bit of stability and a settled footy club," he told reporters.
"Unfortunately it doesn't seem to be that way at the moment.
"I just hope it can work itself out, and these younger guys get the stability I craved through my career."
Hurley said he was proud of how coach Ben Rutten had negotiated his way through the difficult period, with constant speculation he is to be sacked imminently.
"He's come in, worn the media, he's always put the players first and it's easy for people to just see him as a senior coach and forget he's a father, a husband, a mate to all of us," he said.
"It’s been a bit sad the way he’s had to wear this, I know I’ve felt for him.
"He's come in, chest out, trying to work for us and give us the best environment he can for us to win football games."
Hurley informed teammates on Thursday of his decision to retire, with the possibility of an off-field role at the club next year for the popular 32-year-old.
"Over my time, the club has meant so much to me. The decision has crept up a little bit, and at the start of the year, I really wanted to get back out there and play footy again. It was about the middle part of the year where I got close and in recent weeks, running out there and getting a kick again was just fantastic," Hurley said.
"Physically and mentally, I am feeling up for the challenge, but such a big operation and a big couple of years, and the uncertainty around whether physically I could still keep up with the rigours of AFL footy, it really set in that it was probably time to hang the boots up.
"What keeps coming to mind is the relationships I have built here. I've been here since 2008 and while I probably haven't experienced a lot of on-field success, and not everyone in AFL can have that, a different success to me is meeting special people and people from this club I’ll have in my life forever.
"While it's hard to name everyone individually, I'd also like to thank the admin staff, the property staff and particularly the medical staff, for patching me up for the last 14 years."
Hurley has played 193 games for the Bombers and was a constant for the side since making his debut in 2009, having arrived at the club as a key defender with pick No.5 at the 2008 NAB AFL Draft.
He immediately stepped into AFL football, playing on Port Adelaide key forward Warren Tredrea in his debut game and sending Essendon into the finals later that season with a match-winning four-goal haul against Hawthorn in a spiteful round 22 clash.
Hurley took on Matthew Lloyd's famous No.18 jumper thereafter, quickly becoming an Essendon fan favourite in attack before switching more permanently into defence and becoming one of the leading backmen in the competition.
He was an All-Australian in 2015 before missing 2016 due to the suspensions given to the Bombers for the supplements saga. His loyalty to Essendon shone through as he knocked back big rival interest from the Western Bulldogs and Collingwood during that year away from the Bombers and returned in stellar form, once again claiming All-Australian honours in his first season back.
Ahead of 2021 Hurley had been training as a key forward, before the illness struck and saw a long and challenging road back to full fitness and health.