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Cross: No Player Should Be Told To Retire

It was Round 22, a week before finishing my 13th season at the Western Bulldogs when I was told I wouldn’t be offered a new contract.

The decision was hard to hear and I was distraught because I loved the place and that will never leave me — you spend more time with the people there than you do at home with your family — and I was there for more than a decade.

The decision hurt and you don’t have to agree or like it but I understood the logic behind their decision to cut ties and you have to accept that because the club are continually searching for that next premiership and are making decisions to get to that point.

That’s the footy landscape these days and unfortunately you have to cop it on the chin and move on.

There’s a sense of pride and belief in yourself, and if you think you can still play at the highest level then there are 17 other teams available who may want your services.

I never considered hanging up the boots during that time. The discussions with the Dogs centred around them preferring I retire but I still felt I was playing well. Circumstances are different at each club and the Bulldogs were regenerating their list but I still believed I had a lot to give.

I told them that I would be looking for other options and that’s up to the discretion of the player — I don’t think a player should ever be told when to hang up the boots, especially if there are other options out there.

In 2013, the Bulldogs didn’t make the finals and neither did Melbourne. Paul Roos had been appointed coach early in September and it was in the first week or two of the finals where I sat down and had a chat to Todd Viney, Josh Mahoney and ‘Roosy’ about where my body was at and what I saw for myself in the future.

That was the only time I spoke to them personally before the delisted free agency period opened.

In the meantime, I continued to train pretty hard in the hope I would be picked up again. Being in a period of limbo, I can understand how it might be hard for other players facing similar situations to keep training. That sense of purpose might be lost without the incentive of having a contract with an AFL club but I had enjoyed training for more than a decade, so it was the norm for me to continue to do so even though I was uncontracted.

I must admit, I listened a bit to the airwaves a fair bit at the time to hear if my name was popping up by any list managers as a potential recruit.

There was a fair bit of work behind the scenes from my manager and I kept in close contact with him during this time. This led to me flying up to GWS due to my connection to Leon Cameron. He was our midfield coach at the Bulldogs for six or seven years, so I had a meeting with him and had a look at the Giants’ facilities.

I strongly considered the option of playing at GWS but the best scenario was staying in Melbourne. I had a two-year-old boy at the time and my wife’s a Melbourne girl so it made a lot more sense for us to stay in Melbourne.

In early November, I signed with Melbourne as a delisted free agent. I was excited to extend my AFL career and was always going to use the free agency system to do so.

I’m not sure what would have happened had that system not been available. If I was forced to go to the draft, anything could’ve happened and the unknown the draft provides, along with the extra month to six weeks wait, creates a greater level of uncertainty surrounding your future.

Being a delisted free agent meant I had some level of control and could extend my career in a place that suited my family and life circumstances.

Melbourne was also aware of my plans to go into the high performance area and they offered me a job in their sports science department after my AFL career ended in 2015.

Playing with the Demons for a couple of years meant I was able to form relationships with the players and staff, know their roles and understand their personalities before taking on the job, which could only enhance my ability to do the job.

I’m stoked to be working at Melbourne in the field I’m passionate about. To transition into a job at the club where I played is a situation which couldn’t have worked out much better.