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AFL NEWS: Saints great reveals tragic toll of concussions, Gill green-lights Hird coaching return

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Former St Kilda player Justin Koschitzke has revealed his ongoing struggle with mental health issues, which he believes are linked to a series of concussions throughout his playing days.

Koschitzke, who retired in 2013 after 200 games with the Saints, revealed on 3AW’s Footy: Then and Now podcast he struggles to remember chunks of his playing career.

“There’s multiple games I can’t remember finishing the game or driving home, and that’s just ludicrous when you think about it,” he said.

“[My] mental health goes up and down, there’s memory loss, there’s mood swings, there’s all sorts of things. And I’m sure there’s a lot of other players out there that feel the same.

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“It’s just a management thing, knowing how to work on it and navigate through a lot of stuff.”

Tragic recent deaths of AFL greats Danny Frawley and Shane Tuck have been linked to the degenerative brain condition Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) most heavily associated with concussion.

Koschitzke praised research into the long-term impact of concussion for professional athletes.

“They’re proving that CTE is a real thing with ‘Spud’ [Frawley] and Shane Tuck… it is a huge concern,” he said.

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“Hopefully the research can keep going so that guys that are struggling have some sort of hope with rehabilitation and moving forward to have the quality of life that you would expect.”

Koschitzke was involved in one of the game’s most infamous concussion incidents in 2006, when he was knocked out by a bump from Western Bulldog Daniel Giansiracusa that was deemed legal at the time.

The then-23 year old was diagnosed with a fractured skull, and was still suffering severe concussion symptoms up to four weeks later.

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Koschitzke now works as part of the Danny Frawley Centre for Health and Wellbeing in Moorabbin, praised current attitudes and policies towards concussion in the AFL, saying they help ensure the players’ safety far more than in his day.

“We’ve come so far and it’s so great to see that concussion has this mandatory time that you have to spend… but back then, it was a badge of honour,” he said of his career.

“You got knocked out and you were blurry and you can’t see and you can’t remember, but it was a badge of honour to keep playing. Your legs and your arms are okay, so get back out there and get into it.

“Now, it just doesn’t happen, there’s all this testing that goes through, the doctors are privy to the replay to see how they got hurt and how severe it was.

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“We used to just convince the doctor that we were okay – get me back out there!”

Justin Koschitzke of the Saints is congratulated by Stephen Milne during his final AFL game.

Justin Koschitzke of the Saints is congratulated by Stephen Milne during his final AFL game. (Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images)

‘Absolutely no reason’ for AFL to block Hird from coaching, says McLachlan

AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan says the league will not block James Hird from a return to senior coaching, with the football legend heavily linked to the vacant GWS job for 2023.

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Hird hasn’t coached at the top level since being sacked by former club Essendon in 2015, amid the club’s bitter dispute with the AFL and the World Anti-Doping Authority over the infamous supplements saga.

However, with the 49-year old hired by the Giants as a leadership consultant for 2022 and reportedly keen to support caretaker coach Mark McVeigh for the rest of the season, McLachlan told 3AW the league wouldn’t stand in the way of the club making a permanent appointment.

I don’t know if James wants to coach again, he has wanted to come back to football to an extent, but there is absolutely no reason [why he wouldn’t be allowed to coach],” McLachlan said on Friday.

Among the other frontrunners to replace the resigning Leon Cameron in 2023 is Alastair Clarkson, who fuelled speculation of an immediate return to senior coaching ranks, having ended his 16-year tenure at Hawthorn in acrimonious circumstances last year, in an appearance on Fox Footy’s AFL 360 Extra.

Clarkson said experiencing the Golden State Warriors’ NBA playoffs up close and personal reignited his passion for coaching.

“Two weeks ago, I was right in the heart of the Golden State Warriors and they played in a playoff series against Denver and the strategy that went about trying to win the series and the buzz in the stadium, it was like ‘God, I want to be back part of the cut and thrust, in the coalface’,” he said.

“It will pretty much come down to one thing: I would want to get back involved because I want to win it. If I didn’t feel like I was the bloke who could take that club to win it, then I would stay out of the game.”

McLachlan, though, shot down speculation the Giants could be given soft cap assistance by the league to hire Clarkson, saying any special treatment for the expansion club is ‘not in consideration’.

“The same soft cap applies to all clubs – that’s not in consideration [for there to] be any additional monies in the cap for that,” McLachlan said of the hypothetical move to bring Clarkson to GWS.

“I think what the club needs, what the league needs, they want the right coach to take them forward. Whether that be a brand coach like, say, Leigh Matthews or Al Clarkson, the club will work through what the playing group needs in the right type of coach.”

Cameron will coach his final match as Giants coach this weekend against Carlton.

James Hird

Former Essendon coach and superstar James Hird. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

AFL considers mid-season trading… but not of players

The AFL will consider allowing teams to trade draft picks in-season in future, according to league football manager Brad Scott.

Scott told The Age that a mid-season window to allow clubs to trade picks was on the AFL’s agenda, with permission to trade picks in that year’s national draft for those in the mid-season rookie draft.

According to Scott, the move would allow teams greater ‘flexibility’ in managing their lists to fill desperate mid-season needs. Gold Coast, for instance, spent much of last year without a recognised ruckman following a spate of injuries.

However, Scott said a fully fledge mid-season trade period would not be part of any immediate plans.

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“I am not sure the industry is quite ready, or fans are ready, for players to be playing for them one week and another club the next week. But we are open-minded to it,” he said.

“In the short-term a mid-season trade period is not on the table but it is certainly something we will investigate.

“You might have Melbourne say ‘what if we trade picks? We really want that kid in the mid-season rookie draft so we will trade a pick in the national draft to get first pick in the mid-season rookie draft to get the player we want’.”

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