Three More Veterans Bow Out

Lisa Albergo's picture

by Lisa Albergp reporting for AFANA from Chicago

 In mid-August, three more veterans announced they would be retiring at the end of the year - Bulldog Robert Murphy, Hawk Josh Gibson and Cat turned Bomber James Kelly. Murphy joins teammate and fellow 300-gamer Matthew Boyd in retiring.

ROBERT MURPHY
Murphy, who has played 311 games (through RD 22) but was restricted to 16 this year due to hamstring issues, said the decision had been coming for some time and he had even considered retiring several times last year as he was recovering from his knee injury. Her always knew 2017 would be his last year, saying when winter hit his body "... started to let me know I would not be able to complete another season ... I got to the halfway point this season, and my body really started letting me know it couldn't go again ...". He joked that he also knew it was time when "... players started wearing headphones in the warm-up." Other thank yous went to Richmond 1995 for their inspiration, medics for maintaining "a body I didn't think had 300 games in it", teammates "for keeping me young", former Age columnist Martin Flanagan, Ben Hudson's beard, the Espy Rock Dogs (a team which plays an annual charity match), sundry musicians, and his wife, Justine, and three children "for filling my world with love, Lego and kindness". Their reward would be a "Winnebago trip up the coast" and "more trampoline time", his "a cup of tea and the crossword".

Murphy, 35, said he was proud to be a part of the club and to be a one-club player and proud of the contribution he was able to make after the turmoil of 2014, "We know how dire it has been a few times ... you never quite get over those bruises. My part ... has only been a small part, but I'm pretty proud of that."

He paid tribute to his teammates, "It's been a privilege to be among you for 18 years, and an even greater thrill to lead you for the last three." He said he has never watched last year's Grand Final, but still has hope for 2017, "If I'm not a premiership player there will be a sense of emptiness there, but I gave it everything I had. There's a bit of a hole in the heart there. I've still got a bit of life left in me this year. I feel the team has a few cards to play in this hand. But I'll finish this year knowing I've run the tank dry."

“I’ve had the privilege of playing alongside some of the greats of this club and under some inspiring coaches, and each person has helped shape me as a player and person. I’m thankful for all the support I’ve received ... from my teammates, coaches and club staff, my family and friends, and from the amazing Bulldogs’ members and fans. It has been an honor to captain the club for the last three seasons, and I will leave the game satisfied that I gave everything I possibly could.”

On field, Murphy will be remembered for his composure, agility, versatility, ability to read the play and execute under pressure, and incredible skill on both sides of his body. Equally, he is held in the highest regard for his leadership on and off the field, particularly in the latter stages of his career. Murphy is one of only seven players in Bulldogs’ history to play 300 games, alongside Brad Johnson, Chris Grant, Doug Hawkins, Ted Whitten, Scott West and Rohan Smith.

Coach Luke Beveridge described Murphy as a "once in a generation character" for his achievements on and off the field, "He has been one of the most consistent performers for the club ... because on top of his natural ability he has driven himself to continually improve and get the best out of himself ... it's the impact he's had off the field, in terms of setting standards for his teammates, leading by example and driving the right culture, which is difficult for those outside the club to fully appreciate. The Bulldogs have been lucky to have Bob Murphy, and he leaves an incredibly strong legacy." Beveridge also said had it not been for the momentum Murphy drove at the club, there would probably not have been a second premiership in 2016. Murphy said it had left "... a hole in his heart."

Murphy wrote a column regularly for the Age newspaper. In one of his early columns, he talked about the magic of his first pair of boots. In another, he told of how he sung the Bulldogs song to his infant son as a lullaby. At his retirement announcement, he said " ... the smell of a footy can make you feel like a nine-year-old again ... ". After a win over Collingwood in 2014, Murphy wrote: "There's still a part of my footy soul chained to another time, where a win like Sunday's would be marked by a two-day bender, but footy is about six-day breaks these days.."

Murphy also recollected how the club was a struggler when he first arrived, "When you join a club, you inherit the club's mission. 1954, the year of the Bulldogs only flag, "felt like ghost stories". He talked about walking up the race with his team on match day and the unique sense of "brotherhood and clan". He remembered when the Dogs were "dire, irrelevant, a laughing stock". At last in his 10th year, they won a final, and thenceforth were no longer the club he played for, but indivisibly his club, "It's in my skin, it's in my bones," he said.
Murphy was drafted in 1999 and made his debut in 2000. By 2001, he had established himself a regular senior player. He was a Rising Star nominee that year and named the club's most promising player. In 2005, he kicked 33 goals as a forward, and he had kicked 13 goals in nine matches at the start of 2008 before being sidelined due to a knee reconstruction. He was outstanding in 2011 as a defender, earning All-Australian honors and finishing second in the club best and fairest count. He was named captain in 2015 after Ryan Griffen departed for Gold Coast.

Former Bulldogs coach Terry Wallace was in agreement with Beveridge, saying it took only one game to know Murphy was a special talent, recollecting a goal a young Murphy kicked against Carlton which almost won the game, “He just strode in like he had all day ... We knew he was going to be a good player, it was just about how long it was going to take ... He could play virtually anywhere. He came in as a wingman, who had played a lot ... at half back ... I thought he nearly played his best football as a ... forward ... when the Bulldogs played with a small forward line under Rodney Eade….Bob was the hit-up man and his greatest trick was as soon as he marked he turned around and wheeled, which open it up straight away. He was almost playing the old fashioned center half forward as a skinny player ... I think decision making is his greatest strength ... his ability to see it, and go either way, because he was so quick and so agile ... if he saw something and was going one direction, he could then flip it the other way just within a split instant.”

BOB MURPHY HIGHLIGHTS
Captain 2015-2017
Doug Hawkins Medalist (Runner Up Best and Fairest) 2011, 2015
All Australian 2011, 2015
All Australian Captain 2015
AFLPA Captain of the Year 2015
Victorian Representative 2008
International Rules – 2001, 2002, 2015
AFL Life Member

Source: theage.com.au, sen.com.au, Adrian Ceddia,. Western Bulldogs Media Release

JOSH GIBSON
The day after Robert Murphy announced his retirement, Hawk Josh Gibson followed suit. Gibson, 33,. began his career at North Melbourne via the rookie draft and played 65 games with the Kangaroos before crossing to Hawthorn in 2010. Gibson suffered a groin injury in Round 12 this year and is still in recovery. At the press conference he said, “I’ve probably known for most of the year that this would be my last season. I still love coming to the club every day, but as we’ve seen over the past couple of months there are several young guys ready to take over ... in the back end and I’m more than happy to step aside for them." He said he was content that he would not get a chance to play a farewell game, “While I’d love to run out ... one more time, I’d never do so at the expense of a young player with their whole career ahead of them. I’m satisfied knowing that I’ll leave ... with nothing left in the tank and with memories and friendships that’ll last a lifetime."

He continued with his "thank yous", “I would like to thank everyone ... for embracing me and making me the player I am today. This place has become like family and I’ll be forever grateful that Clarko saw something in me back in 2009 and gave me the opportunity ... I’d also like to thank North Melbourne for taking a chance on me ... in 2004, the Hawthorn fans and members for embracing me ... , and Nigel and the team at TLA (his management company) ... Lastly, I’d like to thank all my family and friends, without your support and belief I wouldn’t be where I am today.”

Hawthorn Senior Coach Alistair Clarkson paid tribute to Gibson and his contribution to Hawthorn, “Gibbo has been a great servant ... He came ... and embraced the Hawthorn culture and way, but more importantly he became a driver of that culture and a leader ... To be a best and fairest winner in a premiership winning season is an amazing achievement, to do it twice, like Gibbo has managed to do, is something reserved for the elite of our game. We’ve seen great development among our young defenders this year and the mentorship Gibbo has provided these guys over the last few years is an integral part of what he’s brought to the club.'

Clarkson pointed to one key trait as his reasoning for recruiting Gibson. " ... he's a competitor ... his record on 'Bud' (Franklin) ... was really, really strong ... "He was 6'2", played against bigger opponents, you can only do that if you're a really ferocious competitor." Clarkson went on to say that Gibson continued to hone his game and was one of the hardest trainers at the club, "He developed a craft in terms of his game in being able to time the ball perfectly in terms of when you jump and leap at the ball and body. That's a really special trait. He had to learn that in the system of which we play defense and it wasn't easy." Clarkson revealed that Gibson had battled groin issues for most of his career and praised him for his durability, passion and spirit fo play. Clarkson said the fact that Gibson won best and fairest awards twice in premiership seasons, over the likes of Hoge and Mitchell, spoke volumes of the regard in which he is held at the club.

Gibson was lured to Hawthorn by the prospect of playing in a premiership and admitted to being a bit intimated at first, "Suddenly you're running around on (Jarryd) Roughead and 'Buddy' at training and you've got ...(Luke) Hodge and (Sam) Mitchell and (Jordan) Lewis and these guys and I was like 'Wow, what a star-studded line-up here'. It just made me really want to perform hard and show those guys that I was worth the club trading for me," Gibson said. When asked about his record against Franklin, he said it probably was even, "You've probably never got 'Bud'. You think you've got him and then he kicks a few ... ".
Gibson will be honored by the club with a lap of honor at half time of the Hawks’ final home game of the year against the Western Bulldogs at Etihad Stadium in Round 23.

Career highlights:
Games: 225
Premiership side: 2013, 2014, 2015
All Australian team: 2015
Peter Crimmins Medal (club best and fairest): 2013, 2015
Hawthorn best player in finals: 2011

Source: Clare Pettyfor, Hawthorn Media Release, afl.com.au

JAMES KELLY
Former Cat and current Bomber James Kelly was next . This is his second retirement. He actually retired at the end of 2015, but he came out of retirement to join Essendon in 2016 as one of the replacements for the banned players. Essendon choose to retain him for 2017. He said he felt "worn out and tired" at the end of 2015, but playing for Essendon rekindled his passion for the game. "I was a little bit unsure [at the start]. But pretty quickly ... I was really happy I had come back ... ". He also said he and the club were about 50-50 on him playing another season, but in the end, Kelly said he felt it would not be the best thing for the club, "The best thing is to finish now and hand it over to other guys who need the opportunity to play and be good players ... " ... at the end of the day if I finished my career with 330 games or 310, that does nothing for the footy club ... I feel really fortunate ... to come this far in my career and play for two really great clubs, and have a lot of success at one. I'm eternally grateful I've been able to experience the highs and lows of footy and be a part of two really unique groups.."

Kelly recalls a conversation with then Geelong coach Mark Thompson which possibly saved his career. Kelly says he had gotten "pretty comfortable" with himself in 2006, his fourth with Geelong, and was dropped several times. Thompson called him just minutes after the trade deadlines passed and told him he almost got traded. Kelly said he was devastated and "... from that point on I ... put my beer down and went for a run, I was like 'Now is the time'.".

Kelly has played 17 games this season (through RD 21) after playing 20 in 2016 for a total of 310. He brought up his 300th game earlier this year, ironically against his former club Geelong. He was chaired off the ground at the end of the game by an Essendon player and a Geelong player. Kelly, 33, is interested in coaching when the season finishes. Coach John Worsfold said the club would need to look at its coaching structure for next season before offering Kelly a position. Otherwise, Kelly will have to look elsewhere, "It was getting to that point where James needed to know if he wanted to pursue a coaching career or opportunities, he could start to look at that now rather than post-season," Worsfold said.

Former Geelong teammate Cameron Mooney spoke on SEN about his "great mate", saying he was a superstar and a "magnificent human being". Mooney also told how he and others were less impressed when, in his first interview with a Geelong newspaper, Kelly stated he wanted to be a 300-game player. Mooney said, “I thought ‘you flog. Get a grip young man ... ’. Mooney went on about Kelly's career, which includes premierships with Geelong, “I am so happy that Essendon people got to see what Geelong people got to see for so long. They’ve got him at the back end of his career but his professionalism, his versatility, his toughness… he was smart and skillful and one of the best tacklers I have seen in the game.”

Mooney also said that Kelly was a practical joker and related this story about a prank on Joel Selwood, We had an endless river down at Geelong, it just goes around and around, and in the middle of it there is an island. One day Sel (Selwood) walks in and couldn’t find his locker, he was having a look around and there it was, in the middle of the island in the pool. Nobody helped him get it back and I’m not even sure how he got it back ... In the end he (Kelly) owned up to it but we knew it was him anyway.”

Kelly recalls a conversation with then Geelong coach Mark Thompson which possibly saved his career. Kelly says he had gotten "pretty comfortable" with himself in 2006, his fourth with Geelong, and was dropped several times. Thompson called him just minutes after the trade deadlines passed and told him he almost got traded. Kelly said he was devastated and "... from that point on I ... put my beer down and went for a run, I was like 'Now is the time'.".

Kelly said working with the younger players had given him a desire to pursue a coaching career, but will not make it a priority at this time.

HONORS
2002 Rising Star nominee
Geelong Premierships 2007, 2009, 2011
Geelomg preseason premiership 2006
All-Australian nominee 2010
All-Australian 2011
Jim Stynes Medal 2011 (best on ground in International Rules)
Geelong third best and fairest 2010
Essendon second best and fairest 2016

Source: afl.com.au, sen.com.au, AFL Record Season Guide

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