If the AFL needs a subtle reminder of how quickly a career can end, Danny Stanley is the perfect example.
The former Gold Coast Sun was playing the best footy of his life by the end of 2014, after five strong years at the Suns following a four-year stint at Collingwood.
But a few niggles set off what would be a shocking run of injuries that ultimately ended his AFL career less than two years later.
While Stanley’s case isn’t an unusual one in AFL circles, it’s a timely reminder of how quickly things can end.
“All it took was two years with a bad run of injuries and I found myself out of the system — it’s a brutal industry, that’s for sure,” Stanley told Aflplayers.com.au.
“At the end of 2014, I was on 80 games and I thought 100 was definitely within reach with the way I was going.
“But in 2015, I had a few niggles in the pre-season and then suffered a significant quad injury which kept me out for seven weeks.
“I got back into the team and played five games before doing a medial ligament in my right knee, so that was another seven weeks but I managed to squeeze in three more games to finish off the year with 88 next to my name.”
Unfortunately for Stanley, he would remain stranded on that 88-game figure.
Contracted until the end of the 2016 season, the Gold Coast foundation player knew he had to play consistent footy to stay on the list.
Things were going well until he broke down with a serious hamstring strain just as he was on track for a senior recall. And that was the moment the then 28-year-old knew it was over.
“That was the most devastated I’ve been — I was inconsolable,” Stanley added.
“It was only a six or seven-week hamstring injury but there’s still everything you need to get through before getting back on the horse.
“I did all the rehab and was back playing but in my second game in the NEAFL, I broke my lower leg. That was the final nail in the coffin.
“With my hamstring injury, what hurt the most was there was still hope of playing AFL again, but all hope was gone by the time I broke my leg. It can be taken away from you very quickly.”
Exiting an AFL club wasn’t a new experience for Stanley, albeit in different circumstances.
In 2009 after four years at Collingwood, Stanley was de-listed by the Magpies with five games to his name.
So determined to make it back into club land, the young Victorian trained with Fremantle in the pre-season before a last-ditch, spur of the moment phone call to Guy McKenna — the former Magpies assistant coach now charged with leading the AFL’s new baby — revealed a second chance.
Much to Stanley’s surprise, McKenna said on the spot that the club would take the hard-at-it utility in the rookie draft, meaning Stanley would spend a year playing VFL with the Suns as they made the transition to the AFL scene.
Upon reflection, Stanley said he wasn’t ready for a post-footy life at the time and was so headstrong to make it back that he never considered not playing.
“I remember mum asking me what I was going to do and suggesting I might have to go to university but I said I wasn’t finished and was still going to play AFL,” Stanley said.
“When we went away on footy trip that year, I had a call from a state league coach a week after I’d been de-listed and I remember being angry because he knew about my de-listing so soon and that he was trying to get me to play state league footy.
“It was the furthest thing from my mind and I was still young so I bit back when I shouldn’t have, but it summed up my mindset — I was so set on playing AFL again, it was almost like playing state footy just wasn’t an option.”
While the 2009 Stanley was one of hope and determination, the 2016 version knew it was time to seek opportunities elsewhere.
He had planned somewhat for the next phase, especially during the 2016 season as his AFL career was falling by the wayside.
He started chipping away at university during his Collingwood days and is still completing a Bachelor of Business at Griffith University, but a long-time passion eventually presented itself.
“I always had interest in property. I bought my first house on the coast in 2010 and was always saving for a deposit,” Stanley added.
“I always enjoyed the idea of owning houses and investment properties. The thought of re-developing and refurbishing houses excites me but I don’t really know where it’s come from, I don’t have the family history or anything like that.”
Through a club sponsorship group, Stanley came into contact with property development mentor which would eventually lead to a job at Kollosche Prestige Agents — a reputable real estate agency on the Gold Coast.
And after six months of toiling away expanding his industry profile, Stanley recently had a breakthrough securing his first high-end sale, which he credits to the relationship he formed with the vendor.
Now firmly entrenched in the real estate game, Stanley has recognised some similarities and differences between property and elite football.
“As a footy player, everything you do is for you — obviously you’re part of a team but you’re working on yourself the whole time for yourself.
“But when you’re working on someone else’s prized possession and their biggest asset, there’s a fair bit of pressure involved.
“The biggest change would be working on behalf of someone else, but I think that’s where my genuine and honest traits will shine through.”