Top 10: Notable Comebacks From Injury

Well it is fair to declare that the hot topics in the football world at the present time relates to long-term injuries. The loss of star Fremantle mature-age recruit Michael Barlow to a broken leg is a blow not only for the Dockers but also to the competition in general as many would agree his sensational form has provided one of the good news stories this season. His comeback next year would surely create mass amounts of anticipation. Speaking of anticipation, another one of the competitions high profile figures in Saints gun forward Nick Riewoldt is favoured to return from a long stint on the sidelines this weekend after recovering from that infamous hamstring injury suffered in Round 3. All eyes will be on the legendary St Kilda forward at the Gabba on Saturday, however Saint Nick hasn’t been the only footballer to make a highly publicised return as many other have gone before him.

So I have decided to compile a list and count down the Top 10 footballers who have made memorable returns after enduring the rigours of a long term injury.

10. Anthony Koutoufides Round 15 2002- Commencing the countdown is the comeback of champion Carlton midfielder Anthony Koutoufides in 2002, a season which proved to be a forgettable one for the Bluebaggers. Flashback to the Semi Final of the previous year against Richmond and Carlton’s loss to the Tigers was further soured when Kouta, who in the opinions of many was still enjoying the form of his life seriously tore his Anterior Cruciate Ligament while diving into a congested pack. His 2002 season was effectively shattered, however he did shed some light upon a year that signaled the Blues inaugural wooden spoon by making a comeback in Round 15 against the in-form Demons. The sight of ‘Kouta’ donning a knee-brace proved memorable for some as well as his remarkable three goal effort late in the match on an afternoon when the Blues were slaughtered by 44 points. Koutoufides however would only take the field twice more in 2002, and many experts believed this knee injury truly signified the end of his once invincible movement. For the record Melbourne spearhead David Neitz registered a career-best 9 goals for the day against a depleted opposition.

9. Matthew Richardson Round 1 1996- The “Richo Man” was in stellar form throughout the opening weeks of the 1995 season before infamously crash landing into the SCG fence while attempting to mark a high ball. As a result Richardson’s knee buckled, forcing the high-flying Tiger to undergo a knee reconstruction and sit behind the fence for the rest of the season, ultimately missing Richmond’s admirable finals campaign that year. With a relatively full Pre-Season behind him, Richardson showed no signs of difficulty in the opening round of the 1996 season booting a heavy bag of 6 goals and gathering 20 possessions against a formidable Essendon opponent. Although the Tigers gallantly lost that afternoon, the match heralded in a new successful phase of Richardson’s glorious career as he booted a career best 91 goals for the season. Richo’s previous knee troubles never proved to be a factor as he carved himself into one of the finest players ever to pull on the yellow and black guernsey from that point onwards.

8. Tony Lockett Round 7 1991- Many doubted whether Tony Lockett would play in a large capacity  for the Saints 1991 campaign when the big forward suffered a serious ankle injury in a Pre Season night game at Waverley park. Following several weeks big ‘Plugger’ eventually returned to the line-up in the Round 7 clash against the Crows on a mild day out at Moorabin, and how! Lockett’s big frame and superbly accurate goalkicking was evident from the opening bounce, booting 6 goals in the first stanza alone. Many St Kilda supporters enjoying their barbeques in the outer that day would never forget youngster Robert Harvey’s drilling clearance that hit big Tony’s chest in the opening 20 seconds, Lockett duly sent the Sherrin straight through the big sticks. Lockett was at his goalkicking best and the opponents from the other side of the border were dumbfounded as how conquer the big man who registered a final tally of 12 goals ‘easing up’ in the final term contributing to a 131 point massacre. Lockett would prove a vital cog in St Kilda’s first finals appearance for 19 years, booting yet another century of goals for the year.

7. Jason Cripps Round 15 2001- In a match that would ultimately indicate Malcolm Blight’s final controversial chapter as St Kilda senior coach, the clash with Adelaide under the Friday Night lights would also prove memorable for a beloved St Kilda stalwart. Jason Cripps was absent for 3 years from the AFL scene due to a recurring hamstring injury suffered in 1998. Cripps’ first kick back resembled a fairytale as he booted an inspirational goal to provide hope for the Saints who were the clear underdogs that night against the talented Adelaide unit. It suddenly transformed into a nightmare for the red white and black, annihilated by 97 points.

6. Anthony Stevens Round 15 2000- North Melbourne stalwart Anthony Stevens was fortunate not to lose his life early in 2000, when encountering a large shard of glass that caused severe cuts to his face and neck following the Roos Round 1 loss to West Coast. Stevens, a courageous midfielder on the field conveyed his true courage off it by resuming his career in Round 15. The dual Premiership player gathered 12 disposals and booted a goal in his comeback match against the Bulldogs in a classic free-flowing encounter. However his inspirational example failed to lift the team to victory, falling agonisingly short by 4 points.
5. James Hird/Matthew Lloyd Round 14 2002- Even the legendary James Hird doubted the future of his football career following a sickening facial injury caused by the errant knee of teammate Mark McVeigh during the Round 6 loss to the Dockers at Subiaco. Co-incidentally another respected Bomber champion in spearhead Matthew Lloyd would join Hird on the sidelines after suffering a long-term finger injury. Despite these tragic losses the Bombers coped with the absences in admirable fashion by maintaining their spot in the Top 4 by Round 14. The two respected Bombers in Hird and Lloyd made their highly anticipated courageous return in a crucial match against the Bulldogs in front of a bumper crowd at Docklands. Hird’s ferociousness and determination to win the hard ball was evident and he managed to gain 25 disposals donning that infamous helmet. While Matty Lloyd also took the spotlight by booting a healthy bag of 5 goals while under constant attention from Dog defender Steve Kretiuk. Due to a Bulldog comeback that saw the men from the West hit the front by a solitary point late in the final term, the result hinged upon Lloyd’s shoulders after receiving a free kick in the forward pocket on the final siren. Lloyd’s casual set shot could only manufacture a behind and therefore the game was fittingly a draw following a sensational contest.

4. Tom Lonergan Round 10 2008- When Geelong youngster Tom Lonergan courageously ran back with the flight of the football, he knew a collision was inevitable. When the hard knock eventually arrived from Demon Brad Miller, Lonergan wouldn’t have been able to predict the extent of the injuries that followed. Following that knock in 2006, Lonergan lost litres of blood, a kidney and almost his life. Fast forward almost two years later and Lonergan recovered to make an inspirational comeback against the Blues at Etihad Stadium. Although Lonergan managed to make his football comeback the previous year in the VFL and ultimately play in the victorious VFL Grand Final that year for the Cats, a step up to senior level would be the ultimate test. Lonergan impressed many in his AFL comeback in the first term and although the nerves were apparent, he gathered 7 possessions and booted 2 goals in an encouraging display.

3. Peter Hudson Round 21 1973- In one of the most spectacular VFL/AFL comebacks of all time, Hawthorn champion and remarkably accurate forward Peter Hudson returned for one comeback match at Waverley in 1973. After suffering a serious knee injury in the opening round of 1972 that significantly derailed his career, Hudson made his infamous arrival at Waverley Park from Tasmania via a helicopter. In front of a capacity crowd, Hudson showed no sign of weariness by booting 8 goals out of his side’s total of 13 in a grand display at Full Forward against the Magpies. However his efforts failed to carry Hawthorn over the line, falling to Collingwood by 3 goals. In the aftermath of the match Hudson claimed his knee had ‘pulled up sore’. However pain failed to affect the champion in the years ahead, captain-coaching Tasmanian club Glenorchy to a flag in 1975 before returning to Hawks for one final season in 1977, compiling yet another century of goals.

2. Adam Ramanauskas Round 14 2007- ‘Rama’ as he was affectionately known was one of the key components behind Essendon’s stunning success in their Premiership year of 2000 and beyond. However in 2003, the career of the young, up and coming star grounded to a temporary halt after being diagnosed with fibromatosis (low grade form of cancer). After undergoing regular radiotherapy, Ramanauskas admirably returned to the Essendon line-up, completing a solid 2004 season. Unfortunately in 2006 after undergoing a knee-reconstruction, ‘Rama’ faced another arduous hurdle as the cancer re-appeared. Even the most optimistic Essendon fan would have doubted that Ramanauskas would ever grace the field for the Bombers again. But testimony to his courage Ramanauskas did return 18 months later and over 50 000 were on hand to welcome the Bomber champ back to senior footy. The Bombers who were facing an almost unstoppable Geelong line-up worked extremely hard to claw on the the Cat’s tail for the opening three quarters. Ramanauskas also entered the fray and made an impact with a total of 12 disposals including a team-lifting goal that was received with a warm standing ovation. Despite trailing by a slender margin of 10 points at the final change the resistance was broken by the all conquering Cats in the last quarter booting 7 goals to 1 to inflict a 50 point hammering on the Dons. But ‘Rama’ was inspired and after displaying a successful 2008 season finally decided to hang up the boots.

1. Jason McCartney Round 11 2003- Courageous defender Jason McCartney had already dealt with many hardships throughout his long football career at three clubs in Collingwood Adelaide and finally North Melbourne. However the aftermath of the effects of the Bali bombing would be his biggest test yet, both mentally and physically. After over 50% of his body succumbed to second degree burns and almost died under the knife, McCartney battled to regain a factor more important than football, his own health and well-being. After eventually recovering and undergoing re-habilitation, McCartney willed himself to return to the top level of football. Following a stint with VFL affiliate Port Melbourne, McCartney eventually achieved his goal in Round 11, barely 9 months after being placed on life support. In arguably one of the most emotional nights Australian Football has ever witnessed, North were facing an important test against Richmond on a huge Friday Night. But McCartney saw no action until the second term lining up deep in the forward line. In a tight contest McCartney shone and lit the crowd up early in the final term booting an inspirational goal to give the Roos a handy buffer and send the crowd into a frenzy. McCartney also stamped his authority on the match in the dying minutes as his dribbling kick forward found goalsneek Leigh Harding who booted the clincher from point blank range. From that point onwards the Roos grimly held onto their slender margin to prevail by 3 points. As Dennis Cometti claimed as the final siren blared “Fairytales do come true!” Indeed it was for McCartney and his teammates. In a further twist, McCartney decided to retire effective immediately after the match signalling a fantastic end to a long career.

McCartney’s inspirational comeback earns a deserved number 1 spot, however if you have a different opinion feel free to comment.

About Damian Watson

Hey,my name is Damian Watson and I am 14 years old. My ambition is to become an AFL broadcaster/journalist in the future. I am a keen blues supporter and I live in the Eastern suburbs of Melbourne. I play and write for the Knox Falcons U/16's.


  1. Excellent work Damo. I remember being angry that everyone was so happy about McCartney’s comeback, when I was very upset about another Richmond loss. Shut up about McCartney! I wanted to say.

    Here’s one for the future:

    Michael Barlow Round 1 2012

    After suffering a horrific broken leg in Round 14 2010 blah blah blah…

  2. Steve Healy says

    Well done as always Damo, Yeah it was interesting how Hudson played one game in 1972, and one game in 1973 and both games he kicked 8

  3. Michael Barlow grand final 2010… broken leg… Norm Smith Medal… blah blah blah

  4. Steve Healy says

    Yeah Les hahaha there’s a good chance of that happening.

    And don’t forget Liam Jurrah!

  5. Chalkdog says

    Good work. Best I saw with my own eyes was Doug Hawkins in late 80s. Very tubby Hawk [barely fitted into the jumper] ran around and made it through. The whole western suburbs had written him off as his rehab was very unorthodox. It involved many sessions at the Brook – they even erected a statue out the front. Played another 150 games at least.

  6. smokie88 says

    I cannot believe it is seven years since the McCartney match !

  7. Rocket Rod Gillett says

    The Greatest Cat of All, Graham Vivian Farmer, missed most of the 1962 season following a knee operation. Came back the following season and changed the game forever – equal runner up with the Greatest Saint of All, Darrel Baldock to Bobby Skilton for the Brownlow, and of course, was the lynch-pin of Geelong’s premiership winning team.

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