The 2016 season saw the retirement of two of the games longest serving players, and modern day club icons.
Firstly North Melbourne and new AFL games record holder Brent Harvey, after 21 years and 432 games was given his marching orders by the Kangaroos, and across the continent, former long-serving Fremantle captain and surely the Dockers’ next member of the Australian Football Hall of Fame, Matthew Pavlich called it a day after 17 seasons, 353 games and 700 goals.
Now as we enter 2017, two more long-serving players are set to reach the much-heralded 300 game milestone, but they each will have achieved it by following vastly differing paths in recent times.
Western Bulldogs’ skipper Bob Murphy enjoyed a career-best season in 2015, being selected in the All-Australian team as captain no less, and his form in the opening rounds of the 2016 season showed he had lost none of his ability over the off-season. Unfortunately, the dying moments of the Round 3 encounter against the Hawks, brought about a rather premature end to Murphy’s season by way of a serious knee injury.
Closing in on his 34th birthday and after 295 games, despite his renaissance in form, many wondered if Murphy would indeed call time on his career. However, the Bulldogs’ skipper decided he would indeed play on in June, declaring he still had the passion to play, and still felt like he had something to offer the club as skipper.
Of course, a few months later his beloved Bulldogs claimed all before them in a barnstorming September campaign, culminating in a premiership 62 years in the making.
Famously, in a moment most footy fans will remember for years to come, in the midst of the post-match presentation ceremony Murphy was invited to the Dogs’ premiership dais by coach Luke Beveridge and presented with a premiership medal, which he later graciously handed back.
Now the 2017 season will see Murphy back in charge at the Western Bulldogs, this time in the enviable position of leading their premiership defence.
All being well, Murphy will notch up his 300th game early in the season, and given he missed taking the field in the Bulldogs’ premiership triumph as a player, he will be keen to celebrate again, only this time while leading the Bulldogs on the the field of battle on the games’ biggest day.
As a way of contrast, the 2015 season in which the Geelong Football Club’s failure to make the finals for the first time since 2006, saw a host of players given their marching orders from coach Chris Scott, among them the 273-game veteran in James Kelly.
The three-time premiership player’s career could well have been over after he was let go by the Cats. However, the after effect of the Essendon Football Club’s suspensions caused by the supplement saga led to Kelly being given a lifeline at Windy Hill as one of the Bombers’ top-up players for the 2016 season.
Like the quality player he is, Kelly grabbed his chance with both hands.
In an otherwise disappointing season for the Bombers, Kelly impressed to no end, with a terrific performance in the Crichton Medal for the Dons’ best and fairest, finishing equal second, whilst playing in 20 of 22 games.
Importantly, in the year of redemption for those at the Essendon Football Club in season 2017, Kelly has signed on for another year at Bomberland.
With a host of senior players including All-Australian’s in Jobe Watson, Michael Hurley and the uber-talented Dyson Heppell returning to the fold in 2017 – after a year characterised by of often heavy defeats, and a wooden spoon in 2016, seven more games will see Kelly join the AFL’s 300 club.
More importantly, from a team aspect and as a player that has seen the ultimate in success during his 15 years at the top level, Kelly may well get one last shot of finals action before his time is done.
These two veterans of the game may have come from widely different streams in 2016 to be on the verge of their individual 300 game milestones in 2017, but one thing for sure is that each is very much deserving of the honour, and the iconic status that comes from being a member of the leagues 300 club.
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