VFL/AFL retirees by the numbers
The close of the 2020 season has drawn a curtain on several illustrious AFL careers, with names such as Gary Ablett Jnr, Justin Westhoff and Kade Simpson (right) hanging up the boots after more than a decade in the spotlight. With each of these retirements, a new set of numbers is inked permanently into the record books, to be perused, admired and analysed for as long into the future as the game of Australian Football is played.
In some of these cases, the end of a player's career has created a unique entry in the register. In terms of the number of V/AFL games played, Ablett and Simpson are two such players. Ablett's career has come to a close after 357, a total on which no other player has yet ended their tenure at the top level. For Carlton's Kade Simpson, the story is the same. He has become the first V/AFL players whose career games total is exactly 342.
Of course, as the career games totals get lower scrolling through the list of nearly 13,000 men to have played V/AFL, the number of players to have completed their career on a particular figure increases, right down to the more than 1,100 players who never got another game beyond their debut.
Below is a look at the players whose careers have come to a close after the 2020 AFL season, with a brief comparison to previous players whose time ended on the same number of games.
357 games — Gary Ablett Junior
It is certainly fitting that Gary Ablett Junior's career AFL games total of 357 is unique — for the time being at least — because there has never been another player quite like him. The man known to most as 'The Little Master' had a rather nondescript start to his AFL career before he was infamously 'read the riot act' in a brutal post-season review by his Geelong peers at the end of 2006. Those peers had recognised his prodigious talent, and challenged him to make the most of it. A stung Ablett took the feedback on board and by the end of 2007 was an integral part of the Cats' side that ended a 43-year premiership drought.
Two years later Ablett had a second premiership and a Brownlow Medal to his name. He then took up an offer to join the fledgling Gold Coast Suns and secured a second Brownlow Medal in a battling team in 2013. Had he not suffered a season-ending injury in the latter part of the following season, Ablett would almost certainly have become a triple Brownlow Medallist. Ablett returned to Geelong in 2018 and rounded out a stellar career with a further 55 games and 59 goals to take his career tallies to 357 games and 445 goals.
342 games — Kade Simpson
Carlton's Kade Simpson has ended his career without a premiership, but that is through no fault of his own. He is unfortunate in that his career spanned the Blues' least successful era in their history. Though it took Simpson until his third season to establish himself as a regular senior player, he became one of the first picked for the Blues once he did so. He was a model of consistency running of a half-back flank or a wing, and his durability — which saw him go seven years straight without missing a game — was a big factor in him reaching the 342-game total, which places him 19th on the all-time V/AFL games list.
Although Heath Shaw (right) has not entirely ruled out playing again, his delisting by GWS means that his AFL career has likely come to a close at 325 games. Unlike Ablett and Simpson, Shaw will already have company on that number if that is indeed his final tally. In fact he would be the fifth V/AFL player to finish on 325. He would share the total with a very illustrious foursome: Geelong's Ian Nankervis, Brisbane's Jason Akermanis and Sydney pair Jude Bolton and Jarrad McVeigh.
Akermanis is a Brownlow Medallist and triple premiership player, Bolton was a member of both Swans' flags of 2005 and 2012, while McVeigh won one premiership, the latter of the Sydney Grand Final wins. Shaw, too, won a premiership — with Collingwood in 2010. He had hoped to gain a second flag with GWS in 2019 but the Giants were soundly thrashed by Richmond in the Grand Final. Nankervis is the only one of the '325 club' not to win a flag but, like Kade Simpson, he is no less of a player because of it. He was the Cats' games record holder until Corey Enright surpassed him in 2016.
Fifteen years ago, no VFL or AFL player had completed their career with a total of exactly 280 games to their name. With the retirement of Port Adelaide's Justin Westhoff and Geelong's Harry Taylor in recent weeks, there are now five players on the 280 list. Nathan Buckley became the first when he hung up the boots at the end of the 2007 season, and he was joined on that number by Taylor's former teammates Paul Chapman (in 2015) and Andrew Mackie (2017).
The Geelong trio of Chapman, Mackie and Taylor are all multiple premiership players, but Buckley and Westhoff both fell just short of premierships, Buckley playing in Collingwood's 2002 and 2003 losing Grand Finals, and Westhoff and unfortunate member of the Port team thrashed by Geelong in the 2007 decider in his debut season. Buckley, of course, has several individual accolades, including the 1993 Rising Star award, the Norm Smith Medal as best player in the 2002 Grand Final, and a Brownlow Medal in 2003.
The '268 game' club has now grown to eight, with the retirement at the end of this season of Bryce Gibbs. After playing 231 games for Carlton from 2007 to 2017, Gibbs returned to his home state of South Australia, rounding out his career with 37 games in three final seasons with Adelaide.
Gibbs (left) joins some very illustrious company on the 268-game total: premiership players Geoff Southby (Carlton) and Darryl White (Brisbane), along with Garry Wilson (Fitzroy), Jeff White (Fremantle/Melbourne), Chris Tarrant (Collingwood and Fremantle) Heath Scotland (Collingwood and Carlton) and Chris Newman (Richmond).
After having a solitary member since 2008, the 260 game club finally has a second. Fraser Gehrig was the first player to end his career on the total, having played 115 games with West Coast and 145 with St Kilda, but he has now been joined by Port Adelaide's Brad Ebert, who coincidentally also began his AFL career at West Coast. Ebert played 76 games for the Eagles from 2008 to 2010 before heading back to his home state and playing a further 184 games for Port.
239 games — almost!
James Frawley was set to become just the second player to close out his career on 239 games but, after having earlier announced his retirement, he has been persuaded to play on, this time with St Kilda. So the one and only member of the 239 club — Carlton's Serge Silvagni — will remain so for at least a while longer!
Counting down to 1
As we travel down the list of all 12,848 V/AFL players to have taken the field (or in some cases, the boundary line bench at least), the number of players who finished on a particular games total increases. As it stands at the end of the 2020 season, there are 1,113 footballers who have played just one match. A few of these are still on senior lists and/or just starting their AFL journey but some, such as the Western Bulldogs' Callum Porter, might not get a second chance or a second game.
Porter made his debut for the Dogs this year after several years on the list, but was unable to retain his place and has now been delisted. If he is not selected by another AFL club, he will join the one-gamers club. With more than 1,100 members on that list, at least he knows he won't be lonely!
Filling in the blanks
Returning to the top of the list, headed by North Melbourne's Brent Harvey on 432 games, there are of course several gaps on the list as we count down. Next in line after Harvey is Hawthorn's Michael Tuck on 426, leaving 427 through 431 as vacant. No players have yet ended their career on 404 through 425 games, with Kevin Bartlett third on then list with 403 games. 402 and 401 are vacant, with Dustin Fletcher the sole player to have finished on exactly 400.
Below 400 the number of blanks on the list decreases. As it stands now, no player has finished up on the following 300-plus games total: 399 through 384; 382 to 379; 377, 376; 374, 373; 371 to 367; 365; 363 to 360; 358; 355, 354; 352, 351; 349 to 347; 345 to 343; 339 to 337; 335; 331, 330; 327, 326; 317 to 314; 310, 309.
The hardest gaps to fill
Below the 300-game mark, there are just five gaps in the games total list, and they are unsurprisingly all very close to the magical 300 itself. While Richmond's Wayne Campbell and St Kilda's Lenny Hayes were happy enough to bow out three short of the milestone, no players have yet been able to say "Enough!" when sitting on 299, 298, 296 or 295 games. These are the only games totals under 300 on which no player has "pulled up stumps" — understandably.
The number of players whose careers have ended on exactly 300 games provides an indication of how desperate some have been to reach the milestone. The lack 299 and 298 game players is certainly made up for by the nine players who made it to exactly 300 but no further: Sam Newman, Barry Breen, Francis Bourke, Kelvin Moore, Garry Foulds, Mick Martyn, Rohan Smith, Gavin Wanganeen and Kane Cornes.
With a number of 300-plus game players nearing the end of their careers, 2021 will probably see at least another couple of vacancies above the 300 mark filled, but we might be waiting a long time before the last four gaps below 300 are occupied.