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A fond farewell to Firrito, Fisher and my favourite full back

Dane Swan should go down in history as one of Collingwood's best, but was he a superstar? (AAP Image/Julian Smith)
Roar Pro
19th September, 2016
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There are a number of retiring stars this year. Here are some of the well knowns, and some which perhaps didn’t get a great deal of fanfare.

Michael Firrito
Last of the old-fashioned back pockets. While Daniel Wells had hands like a heart surgeon, Firrito had hands like a bricklayer. Firrito’s hands were made for tugging the jumpers of opposition forwards.

You were never quite sure when he was going to pick up the ball but you knew he’d keep swatting it towards the boundary line, along with any opposition player who came the other way.

Dane Swan
Swannie may not like being compared to Firrito but I’m going to do it. Both had great strength through the hips and could rarely be knocked off balance but neither was known for gracefulness.

Both were creative hand-ballers but neither was a creative kick. Both were twentieth century footballers in their own way.

One of the many great quotes from Swannie sums up his endearing disregard for 21st century regimentation. “Mick (Malthouse) said this is your last chance but I proved him wrong. I had more than one chance.”

The difference between Swannie and Firrito was Swannie’s stamina, both on and off the field.

Sam Fisher
Does anyone remember that this guy was once, long ago, seriously good? Back in 2010, Fisher conducted the St Kilda backline like an orchestra. That backline boasted underwhelming talent like Robert Eddie, Zac Dawson, Jason Blake and Steven Baker but took the Saints through to a grand final because one bloke could mark and kick: Sam Fisher.

Collingwood supporters still have nightmares about the Pies midfielders in that first grand final, continually bombing the ball to Fisher in order to wear down his hands and chest. Collingwood only won the second grand final because their brains trust had the brilliant idea of not kicking the ball to Fisher.

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Mathew Pavlich
If we imagined the ultimate footballer, he’d look like an Adonis and play scrupulously fairly.

He’d play defence, forward and midfield with equal aplomb. He’d run like the wind, kick 60 metres and pluck contested marks in the thickest packs.

Through it all, he’d be impervious to injury and off-field intrigues and at the end of it all, he’d retire with dignity and modesty. No-one comes closer to that image than Pav.

In addition, Pav played the second highest number of AFL games of all non-Victorian-based players (behind only Adam Goodes), made the All-Australian team on six occasions and won his own team’s best and fairest medal on six occasions.

Daniel Merrett
Last of the old-fashioned full backs. Daniel lived by the motto ‘If it’s round, punch it. If it’s on the ground, fall awkwardly on top of it. If it’s coming the other way, hit it like a freight train.’

Daniel ran faster when lining up a pack than when chasing a ball. He didn’t take many marks or set up many rebounding attacks but the true test of courage was to stand under a hospital pass with Daniel coming the other way.

Merrett’s career had unfortunate timing. Arriving at Brisbane via the 2002 national draft, he watched from the reserves team while Brisbane played off in the 2003 and 2004 grand finals, then finally cracked the senior team as the Brisbane Lions embarked on an era of sustained mediocrity.

During Merrett’s long reign, 2005-2016, the Brisbane Lions finished no higher than tenth, except in 2009 when they finished sixth.

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Jamie Bennell and Mitch Clark
Actually Bennell and Clark never quite shone as brightly as they should have but they’re mentioned here because they represent the last of the Melbourne curse, and recruiters will be relieved to see them go.

The departures of Bennell and Clark fit a pattern that began when Travis Johnston moved to Brisbane: recruiting from Melbourne really is flirting with demons.

The chief beneficiaries of this enlightened strategy have been Brisbane (Travis Johnston and Brent Moloney), Richmond (Brad Miller and Ricky Petterd), and the Eagles (Jamie Bennell and Cale Morton), but other beneficiaries have been Freo (Colin Sylvia), Geelong (Mitch Clark), and Port Adelaide (Liam Jurrah).

Bring on 2017, and let Frawley and Howe shine brightly.

Andrew Walker
Walker deserves mention because he’s a model to Indigenous Victorians. Retiring after 202 games, Walker has played more AFL games in Victoria than any other Indigenous Victorian (Chris Johnson and David Wirrapunda played most of their football interstate).

Walker was versatile, playing as both a dashing half back flanker and high flying forward. He had the dual misfortune to cop more than his fair share of injuries and to be at Carlton.

Who else deserves a eulogy?