Two days after Melbourne's Grand Final victory, it was back to business for the club with three players being delisted, one retiring and another deciding to look for better opportunities elsewhere. Jay Lockhart, Aaron Nietschke and Austin Bradtke were delisted, while Aaron vandenBerg will seek opportunities elsewhere and Neville Jetta announced his retirement. Lockhart played twenty-two games since joining the club as a preseason supplemental selection in 2019. Bradtke and Nietschke never played a senior game with the latter suffering three ACL injuries in his time at the club, vandenBerg played 51 games for the club.
Vandenberg, 29, struggled with injury through most of the season and managed just four games for the year. List manager Tim Lane said, “Vanders has made a significant contribution over his seven years at the club. His ability to set standards on and off the field has been significant in our growth over this period. I know our supporters loved the brutal way that Vanders played the game. His performances in some big games for the club, including the 2018 AFL Finals Series will be long remembered ... ".
Jetta told his teammates of his decision as the club was getting ready to return to Melbourne. He played 159 games over 13 seasons but played just five in 2021. He said, “Having the chance to be able to witness and be part of the ultimate success at this great club is something I’m incredibly proud of. I’m super proud of my journey as a player, one that has had many ups and downs, and I’m forever grateful for the opportunity to live out my childhood dream and help our club be great again. To every single person who has been a part of my journey, thank you for making it such a special one."
Grant Birchall, 33, retired at the end of the season. After a stellar career with Hawthorn, he joined the Lions for two seasons and played 39 games. He played 248 games with the Hawks, including the 2008, 2013, 2014 and 2015 premierships. When he was with the Hawks, he was an exceptionally durable player, but his 2017 season was ruined by injuries. He was also sidelined for all of 2018 due to a persistent PCL issue and an adductor injury late in the year. He was out of contract and told his services were no longer required and so he followed in the footsteps of former teammates Luke Hodge and headed north. At the end of 2020, he was delisted by the Lions but redrafted as a rookie.
Birchall helped the Lions secure successive top-four spots in the standings, but his last match was Brisbane’s heartbreaking one-point semi-final loss to the Western Bulldogs. Before that, the Lions had defeated West Coast in the final round and it was after that he decided to retire saying, “It was just the right decision to move on ... I’m happy. I’m content with it.” However, it was not so easy when he had to tell his teammates, “That didn’t go to well. I was an absolute blabbering mess. It was really tough letting the boys know but all good things come to an end.” He then said he was fortunate to have been surrounded by “amazing people” and “fantastic coaches and players. It’s been unbelievable. I wouldn’t have thought I’d be a four-time premiership player in my wildest dreams. It’s been a fair old journey.”
Lions coach Chris Fagan said Birchall was “... definitely a champion and one of the standouts of his position over the last 15 years ... The special part about him as a player was his ability to make quick decisions and use the ball really effectively. He became an expert in his position. All of his career he’s played as an attacking half-back flanker.”.
Both Fagan and Alastair Clarkson, who coached Birchall at the Hawks, spoke of the player’s humility, “He didn’t seek any fanfare - that’s why he’s so highly regarded. He was just so consistent. We could just put his magnet on the board and just know he would get the job done every week.”
Sources: afl.com.au, news.com.au
Article last changed on Monday, October 04, 2021 - 1:18 PM EDT