Fremantle ruckman Aaron Sandilands has revealed he had almost called it quits earlier this year and is thankful he had been talked out of it.
Sandilands announced on Tuesday that 2019 would be his 17th and last AFL season, with Saturday night’s clash with Essendon at Optus Stadium looming as his grand farewell.
But the 36-year-old almost pulled the pin earlier this year before he had even played a game this season.
Sandilands missed the second half of 2018 with a calf injury. His playing hopes looked in jeopardy when he suffered a recurrence during the pre-season.
The 270-game veteran was keen to retire at the time, but he was talked out of it by senior physiotherapist Jeff Boyle and club doctor Ken Withers.
“I was getting frustrated, doing basic skill drills and pulling the calf again,” Sandilands said.
“So there was a lot of doubt there that I would ever get back and play again.
“But when you’ve got blokes like Ken Withers and Jeff Boyle who invest so much into the footy club and me personally, the conversations I had with them were ‘Why not have one more go?’.
“I’m so glad those two guys talked me into trying to go one more time.”
Sandilands has been in strong form since returning in round 16, averaging 28 hitouts and almost four clearances per game.
The 211cm ruckman is certain that his decision to retire is right, but not everyone is convinced.
“I had the conversation with my eldest daughter,” Sandilands said.
“I said, ‘Look, I’m getting a bit older, and I’m thinking about stopping playing football’.
“She said, ‘Dad you’re too young and you’ve only just got back playing again’. And then, in the next breath, she said ‘Make sure you man up’.”
Sandilands holds the AFL record of 8466 hitouts, and will finish his career in third spot on the Dockers’ list for most games played, behind only Matthew Pavlich (353) and David Mundy (314).
The focus on Fremantle’s list will shift to goalsneak Hayden Ballantyne.
The 32-year-old comes off contract at the end of this season, but has declared he is keen to play on for one or two more years.
The odds of Fremantle re-signing him appear slim, meaning Ballantyne might need to try his luck elsewhere.
Sandilands, taken by Fremantle in the 2002 rookie draft, hasn’t ruled out playing in the final-round match against Port Adelaide.
He was named in four All-Australian teams and won the Dockers’ best-and-fairest award in 2009 and 2015.
“It’s safe to say that the AFL will never see another player like Aaron,” said Fremantle general manager of football Peter Bell.
“Aaron has the uncanny ability to make the difficult look easy, but no one worked harder than him to be at his fittest and strongest every game day.”