AFL Comebacks

It is becoming an increasing trend in AFL. While I’m not familiar with the figures of pre-2008, surely the number of comebacks to AFL ranks by a player has risen in the past five years. Yes, we saw Tony Lockett return to the Swans a couple of years after retirement, and of course we remember Ben Cousins coming back for a two year stint with Richmond after he was axed by West Coast in sensational circumstances. Some comebacks don’t work. Lockett’s didn’t, while Cousins couldn’t return to his absolute best, but was a very handy midfield weapon for the Tigers and proved superb wisdom for his younger teammates.

We have seen at least one player come out of retirement to pull the boots back on after a year out of the game, usually for another team. We first saw it at the end of 2007 when Fraser Gehrig retired from St Kilda after kicking five goals against Richmond in Round 22. Three months later, he turned his back on his decision, nominating for the draft and returning to the Saints with pick 57. Gehrig played five games and kicked nine goals in his effort to squeeze every last drop possible out of his football career. He was put on the long term injury list after revealing he suffered from painful arthritis. Failed comeback.

Also at the end of ’07, the Hawks went looking for some x-factor to help propel their side from a finals contender to a premiership team. Luckily, Stuart Dew was also in the market for a return to football. After 180 games and 245 goals at Port Adelaide, Dew retired at the end of 2006. He made his return through Hawthorn in the 2007 draft after being picked at 45 in the draft. Despite being 183cm and 108kg, he made his debut in brown and gold in the opening round of 2008, but was hampered by hamstring injuries on a couple of occasions throughout the season. He returned in time and started to play some good footy before September, and, being the only player on the Hawthorn list at the time with a premiership medallion, was selected in the team for the Grand Final against Geelong. Despite Dew’s bulky frame in the September sun, he fired in the third quarter when the game was up for grabs, kicking two fantastic goals and setting up majors to Cyril Rioli and Mark Williams, the latter a superb fighting effort that saw him make not one, not two but three efforts at winning the ball in the forward line before the Indigenous forward poked it through. Hawthorn won the premiership off the back of Dew’s five minute burst, which was labelled as ‘the best five minutes of his footballing life’. He played 11 games and kicked 13 goals but struggled, like many of his teammates as they suffered from what is known as a premiership hangover in 2009, and retired from football effectively, with an extra 26 games, 20 goals and another premiership medal. Successful comeback.

Unsatisfied with his career with the Adelaide Crows that ended after the ‘07 season, Hayden Skipworth nominated for the draft at the end of ‘08, and was picked up by Essendon through the pre-season draft. A talented goalsneak, he made his debut for the Bombers in the opening round of 2009 and amassed 30 disposals, took 12 marks and kicked a goal against Port Adelaide at his old stomping ground, AAMI Stadium. He played 11 games throughout the season, booting the same amount of goals while averaging 18.1 disposals. He played in the Elimination Final against his old side, but Essendon were thumped by 96 points, and Skipworth announced his retirement, citing persistent injuries as the main reason. Not successful, but not a failed comeback.

Tadhg Kennelly’s story is a little different. After eight seasons and a premiership with the Sydney Swans, Kennelly retired from AFL in 2008 to return to his home country of Ireland to take up his second passion, Gaelic Football. It took him one season to achieve the equivalent of a premiership medal in Ireland, and he returned to the AFL, back to the Swans, in 2010. He played 39 games as he got two more seasons out of his body, providing plenty of run off half-back for Sydney as they made consecutive Semi-Finals. He retired at the end of 2011, and is keen to stay in Australia to provide special commentary for matches in future or become a specialist coach. Successful comeback.

After 149 games with North Melbourne, Daniel Harris’ time with the Roos came to an apparent end after heated words were exchanged between the midfielder and then-coach Dean Laidley. He requested a trade at the end of the 08’ season, but nothing eventuated. He spent the first part of 2009 playing in the VFL, but coincidentally, after the axing of Laidley mid-season, he returned to the side to play 10 games. He was delisted at the end of ’09. He was picked up by the Gold Coast and, after a year playing with them in the VFL, made his debut alongside the club in Round 2, 2011 against Carlton. He picked up 30 touches and kicked a goal, and a few more impressive performances came his way, but eventually his career succumbed to a persistent groin injury. He finished his career with the Suns, having added 11 games to his aforementioned total. Failed comeback.

Next season, we will see as many as three comebacks. James McDonald, former captain of Melbourne who retired at the end of 2010, has been picked up by Greater Western Sydney and will play in their inaugural season in 2012, while Paul Medhurst is seeking to be picked up by a club after retiring from the Pies last year. The former forward is in impeccable shape, and may be headed back to Western Australia, where he started his AFL career, but instead of wearing purple, he looks suited to be pulling on a West Coast jumper next season. And of course, who can forget Brendan Fevola. Where will he end up? Surely one club will take a punt on him. After a year out of the game in ’11, Fevola is keen to get back onto the AFL scene and reignite one of the most exciting, and tumultuous careers seen for quite some time. One things for sure though. These players still have plenty more to contribute to the AFL, it just remains to be seen whether their comeback will be talked about in a good way in years to come. Hopefully it doesn’t go the other way, ala Lockett.

About Josh Barnstable

21 year old North Melbourne supporter from country Victoria. Currently living in Melbourne studying a Bachelor of Sports Media. Dreams of becoming a sports journalist and broadcaster.

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