HAWTHORN star Sam Mitchell has described retiring ruckman Max Bailey as the "greatest story of the 2013 premiership team".
Bailey became the third Hawk to hang up his boots since the end of the season when he announced his retirement at the club's best and fairest count on Saturday night.
It certainly caught the brown and gold faithful off guard, and they initially reacted with disbelief before giving Bailey a standing ovation.
"My initial thoughts when I realised it was going to be the case that this was my last year were disappointment and sadness," an emotional Bailey told the adoring crowd.
"But the longer I've thought about it, the more I realise that I've been extremely blessed to have played 43 AFL games – 43 more than I ever thought I'd play.
"For that to culminate in playing in a premiership on Saturday was beyond my wildest dreams."
Mitchell paid tribute to the perseverance of the big man from Western Australia, who suffered three serious knee injuries during his career.
Bailey's rocky journey is illustrated by the fact that Hawthorn played 174 matches in the period between his debut in 2006 and his 43rd and final game a week ago.
"There were so many stories that came out of the 2013 premiership team," Mitchell said.
"You look at the team and all these great stories of individuals who have been through so much.
"But for me, it's the farmer boy, country kid, who endured three knee reconstructions, who finally got his chance to play a full AFL season.
"Even if it was three games in (the team) and then one game where he was 'rested' because his knee was so swollen and sore that he couldn't actually play.
"For me, to see him go up on that dais and get that premiership medal, that is the greatest story of the 2013 premiership team."
Bailey's retirement means Hawthorn is now expected to step up its pursuit of disgruntled Brisbane Lions big man Billy Longer.
The other retiring Hawks, Brent Guerra and Michael Osborne, also received great ovations at the best and fairest function.
Guerra was a key member of the team that defeated Fremantle in the Grand Final last weekend.
Osborne, who was a member of Hawthorn's 2008 premiership, rounded out his career two weeks ago by playing in the Box Hill Hawks' VFL flag.
Another retirement was announced at the best and fairest function.
Legendary former full-forward Jason Dunstall is relinquishing his position on the club's board after serving as a director for nine years.
"He's obviously been a very, very influential person around our club, in terms of what he's done on the field," Hawthorn coach Alastair Clarkson said.
"But for those that have been fortunate enough to be in his presence over the last nine years, there'd be so many, particularly at board level, in the administration and in coaching, who wish to acknowledge the contribution he's made off the field.
"'Bung' probably isn't here tonight. He doesn't like the fanfare too much.
"He was the CEO for the first part of my time at the club, he helped shape so many of the decisions we made in the period of time, which was so crucial to us being able to get back to being a premiership threat.
"So 'Bung', wherever you are mate – you're probably overseas on the slopes of Colorado – thanks so much mate for everything you did for us."