Mick McGuane: Every club’s over-30s, who will retire and who should play on

Collingwood have big decisions to make on newly minted Australian Mason Cox and premiership veteran, Steele Sidebottom, Mick McGuane writes.

Father time gets everyone eventually.

If you’re over 30 and still playing in the AFL, if can come up quickly.

Football analyst Mick McGuane takes a look at every club’s veterans and gives his view as to who should play on next year and who needs to finish up at the end of the season.

ADELAIDE

Average age of 2022 list: 23.3

Competition rank: 18th

Players 30 or above: Rory Sloane, Taylor Walker, Brodie Smith, Paul Seedsman

Goal for 2023: Continued growth of a young side

Taylor Walker is uncontracted beyond this year, but the key forward should and will get a new deal for 2023.

It’s a no-brainer.

He’s still only 32, came back fresh again this season and has been the Crows’ leading goal kicker with 22 majors, while also ranking as the No. 1 key forward in the competition for score assists and score involvements.

Walker is still the main man in attack and the club’s most targeted forward, with injury and illness having restricted Riley Thilthorpe this year and Darcy Fogarty is still a work in progress.

Given his concussion issues, Paul Seedsman is a ‘watch this space’ despite having a contract for 2023.

Captain Rory Sloane has a long road back from an ACL, but has a year to run on his current deal and is a professional who will do everything to get himself right during his rehabilitation.

Brodie Smith is contracted until 2024.

With their list now bed down, expect the Crows to be in the market for another senior player during the trade and free agency period in October, on the back of the successful recruitment of Jordan Dawson last year.

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Taylor Walker has had another solid season for the Crows. Picture: Getty Images
Taylor Walker has had another solid season for the Crows. Picture: Getty Images

BRISBANE

Average age of 2022 list: 24.4

Competition rank: 9th

Players 30 or above: Dayne Zorko, Mitch Robinson, Daniel Rich

Goal for 2023: Consolidate and make an impact in September

The Lions have managed their list exceptionally well and have only three players over 30 as things stand.

The out-of-contract Dayne Zorko might be 33, but he is as durable a veteran as they come and has missed just three games through injury since 2013.

The Lions captain has showed his versatility playing a variety of roles this year in defence, through the midfield and forward.

He gives Brisbane great penetration and territory with his kicking and ranks 23rd across the AFL for inside-50s this season.

Expect a new contract to be inked soon enough.

Wingman Mitch Robinson looks under some pressure to play on, with the 33-year-old being out of contract and struggling to hold his spot in the side this year.

I love what Robinson stands for, but could Brisbane be better served by getting more games into young players like Harry Sharp or Devon Robertson?

There will be some strong conversations with Robinson later in the year.

Daniel Rich has another year on his contract and has been as damaging as ever with his kicking off halfback this season.

CARLTON

Average age of 2022 list: 24.3

Competition rank: 10th

Players 30 or above: Ed Curnow

Goal for 2023: Must believe they belong among the best

Ed Curnow has been one of Carlton’s favourite sons of the past decade and has been durable over recent years.

However, injury has struck this season and the side has evolved significantly in his absence.

Curnow has been used as a tagger through the midfield and more recently as a running forward.

But Corey Durdin, Matt Owies and Zac Fisher are firing as small forwards in attack and the Blues’ midfield is stacked with talent.

That makes it hard to find a spot for Curnow.

Curnow’s strong preparation and attention to detail has got him to where he is as a 200-game AFL player, but you can’t go on forever.

Out of contract at the end of the season, it looks like the time is right to hang up the boots.

Ed Curnow is yet to play a senior game for Carlton this year after battling some injuries. Picture: Michael Klein
Ed Curnow is yet to play a senior game for Carlton this year after battling some injuries. Picture: Michael Klein

COLLINGWOOD

Average age of 2022 list: 24.3

Competition rank: 11th

Players 30 or above: Scott Pendlebury, Jeremy Howe, Steele Sidebottom, Mason Cox

Goal for 2023: Enjoy the ride

Scott Pendlebury and Jeremy Howe are contracted for next year and aren’t going anywhere.

The big questions for Graham Wright and the Magpies’ list management team are whether to revisit one-year deals for Steele Sidebottom and Mason Cox.

The Herald Sun reported earlier this month that Cox has a clause that guarantees an extra season if he reaches a certain number of games.

Sidebottom looked in serious trouble with the way he was covering the ground early in the season, but has looked better in that regard over the past eight weeks.

That said, he is still averaging his fewest Champion Data ranking points since his debut season in 2011.

Right here, right now I would give him another year, but the Magpies might wait a little while longer to make their call.

If Sidebottom does stay, players like Trent Bianco, Caleb Poulter and Finlay Macrae will have their development stifled.

Cox was brilliant against Melbourne before the bye, but let’s not forget he’s 31 and was playing VFL just a few weeks ago.

Whether he fits in this side when Brodie Grundy returns from injury remains to be seen, while Nathan Krueger comes back into the forward line mix next year and young ruckman Aiden Begg is waiting in the wings.

ESSENDON

Average age of 2022 list: 23.9

Competition rank: 14th

Players 30 or above: Michael Hurley, Andrew Phillips, Dyson Heppell

Goal for 2023: Bounce after an underwhelming year

Michael Hurley has been a heart and soul player at the Bombers for many years, but he’s done.

A serious hip infection and some other injury setbacks have meant he hasn’t played for two years.

I would love to see him feature in a farewell game if he can get his body right by the end of the season, but whether he can remains unclear.

Andrew Phillips turns 31 next month and Essendon has Sam Draper as its No. 1 ruckman as well as a developing Nick Bryan, with Peter Wright able to chop out as back-up.

But I’d keep Phillips around for another year as insurance, given he is quite a capable tap ruckman.

Dyson Heppell only turned 30 last month and while his statistics look reasonable, his performances this year have not been great.

Out of contract, he would like the security of a new two or three year deal, but that won’t be forthcoming.

Leg speed is a problem for Heppell and currently, I’m not sure where he plays his best football.

The skipper will be offered a one-year extension, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he was dropped in the second half of the season if they can’t bed down a primary role for him.

Dyson Heppell’s future at the Bombers is clouded. Picture: AFL Photos/Getty Images
Dyson Heppell’s future at the Bombers is clouded. Picture: AFL Photos/Getty Images

FREMANTLE

Average age of 2022 list: 24

Competition rank: 12th

Players 30 or above: David Mundy, Michael Walters, Travis Colyer, Nat Fyfe

Goal for 2023: The foundation’s set. Time to strike.

David Mundy is universally admired with the way he goes about his football and still ranks equal-second at the club for clearances.

He has won at least 20 disposals in all but two of his 11 matches this season.

But it’s a long year and Mundy turns 37 next month.

For this young Fremantle side to continue to grow, it’s time to hand over the batten at the end of the year. It’s a hard call but one that’s necessary.

Travis Colyer has missed only one game this season and at 30 years old still has his speed, which is vital as a pressure small forward.

He will get rewarded for his efforts with another contract.

Nat Fyfe and Michael Walters are both contracted until the end of next season.

GEELONG

Average age of 2022 list: 25

Competition rank: 1st

Players 30 or above: Shaun Higgins, Joel Selwood, Tom Hawkins, Isaac Smith, Zach Tuohy, Patrick Dangerfield, Rhys Stanley, Jonathon Ceglar, Mark Blicavs, Gary Rohan, Mitch Duncan, Sam Menegola

Goal for 2023: Seize the moment

The Cats have the oldest list in the competition and the most over-30s of any club with 12.

Six of the veterans are already contracted beyond this year, though, and a further three look certainties to play on.

At 34, Shaun Higgins’ time is up.

He has given great service to football across 259 games, but has managed just four senior games this season and has not applied the required pressure or hit the scoreboard enough as a forward.

Gary Rohan’s future is in serious doubt beyond this year.

He can provide a different dynamic to the forward line but has had some bad luck with injuries and has not been able to deliver on the big stage in finals.

I’d expect Joel Selwood to have the ultimate decision on whether he plays on, given his status.

If he thinks he still has some fuel in the tank at season’s end, you’d expect the Cats to back him in with a one-year contract extension.

Tom Hawkins is still one of the best key forwards in the game at almost 34 and will be offered another contract, with fellow out-of-contract veterans Isaac Smith and Zach Tuohy have also shown enough this year to play on.

Shaun Higgins’ time is up, Mick McGuane writes. Picture: Alan Barber
Shaun Higgins’ time is up, Mick McGuane writes. Picture: Alan Barber

GOLD COAST

Average age of 2022 list: 23.8

Competition rank: 15th

Players 30 or above: Levi Casboult, Rory Thompson

Goal for 2023: Must play finals

Levi Casboult looked finished at Carlton, but the Suns’ recruiting team clearly viewed him differently and took a punt that has paid off.

The sunshine up north must be working wonders because Casboult has been a revelation as a key forward this year and has been as a tower of strength alongside Mabior Chol.

Casboult ranks 12th in the competition for forward 50 marks this season and deserves a contract extension on form.

But the question will be how he fits in to the line-up when Ben King returns from injury next year.

The injury-prone Rory Thompson is contracted until the end of next season but has played just three senior matches since the start of 2019.

GWS

Average age of 2022 list: 24

Competition rank: 13th

Players 30 or above: Matt de Boer, Callan Ward, Lachlan Keefe, Phil Davis, Daniel Lloyd, Nick Haynes

Goal for 2023: Top-eight on the menu

Expect Lachlan Keefe to hold on for another year, not only given his on-field performances but also the fact he brings great leadership around the locker room – something that is often undersold when talking about the ruthless nature of AFL player contracts.

Keefe has held Matt Taberner, Max King, Elliott Himmelberg, Tom Hawkins and Eric Hipwood to one goal or less during the time he has been matched up on each this season, which are impressive scalps.

Combative midfielder Callan Ward will also get a contract extension, as will Daniel Lloyd with what he offers the forward line when fit and available.

The Giants will have to sit down with defender Phil Davis at the end of the year and discuss where his body is at after another injury-hit year.

Davis has played just 23 senior games in the past three years.

If a decision had to be made on two of the out of contract Giants’ veterans, Davis and Matt de Boer could be in trouble. But it’s what they offer the group in terms leadership and professionalism is what could save them.

HAWTHORN

Average age of 2022 list: 23.6

Competition rank: 17th

Players 30 or above: Ben McEvoy, Luke Breust, Liam Shiels, Jack Gunston, Kyle Hartigan

Goal for 2023: The door to finals is ajar

Captain Ben McEvoy is out of contract at season’s end and shapes as an intriguing case.

A neck injury has meant he has only played one game so far this year and other young players have filled his place.

There is no longer a spot for McEvoy in a forward line which Mitch Lewis and Jacob Koschitzke have made their own, while Ned Reeves and Max Lynch are the future in the ruck. They can jump at centre bounce, McEvoy can’t.

Defender Kyle Hartigan has a year to run on his contract, but his body looks cooked.

If Hartigan were to retire early, there may be a spot for McEvoy down back, but it’s hard to see how else he fits in. Ruck insurance maybe?

Liam Shiels is a much-loved three-time premiership player but there will be a tough conversation with him at the end of the year.

Jack Gunston has not been able to produce his best footy because of injury over the past two years, but could he be a trade target for Brisbane if Dan McStay departs the Lions to Collingwood?

Chris Fagan has raided Hawthorn’s ageing veterans before and has managed to get them fit and squeeze some more out of them, so watch this space.

Ben McEvoy has been hampered by injuries this year. Picture: Michael Klein
Ben McEvoy has been hampered by injuries this year. Picture: Michael Klein

MELBOURNE

Average age of 2022 list: 24.4

Competition rank: 8th

Players 30 or above: Michael Hibberd, Mitch Brown, Majak Daw, Jake Melksham, Max Gawn, Steven May

Goal for 2023: Contend again

There’s a few simple decisions here for the Demons.

Mitch Brown and Majak Daw were recruited as back-up options and have both been great stories, but their time in the AFL is clearly up.

The same can be said about Jake Melksham, who has brought some X-Factor to the forward line over a number of years but has had the likes of Charlie Spargo, Tom Sparrow, Kysaiah Pickett, Toby Bedford and Bayley Fritsch go past him.

Michael Hibberd should get a contract extension if his body holds up in the second half of the year.

Steven May (2023) and Max Gawn (2025) are locked away for a little while yet.

NORTH MELBOURNE

Average age of 2022 list: 23.6

Competition rank: 17th

Players 30 or above: Todd Goldstein, Aaron Hall, Jack Ziebell, Ben Cunnington, Hugh Greenwood

Goal for 2023: Stay the course with the development phase

Coach David Noble has tried to progress the Kangaroos’ up-and-coming ruck stocks by playing Todd Goldstein primarily as a forward this year.

It has been positive for Tristan Xerri, but detrimental for the team and has impacted on Goldstein’s performances in the final year of his contract.

When Goldstein has gone back into the ruck over the past month, it has helped the team.

He has also battled away in attack and is the club’s third-highest goal kicker with 11 majors.

Regardless of where they play him, North Melbourne owes it to the selfless Goldstein to give him another year and get him to 300 games.

Aaron Hall is an accumulator across halfback but is frustrating at times given he doesn’t always look to be giving everything he has.

I wouldn’t be signing him up again for 2023.

Health will come first for Ben Cunnington as he continues his cancer battle, but I hope he can be like Sam Docherty and make a triumphant return to the field and inspire his fellow teammates that overcoming adversity is what separates the best from the rest at times.

Will North veteran Todd Goldstein reach 300 games? Picture: AFL Photos/Getty Images
Will North veteran Todd Goldstein reach 300 games? Picture: AFL Photos/Getty Images

PORT ADELAIDE

Average age of 2022 list: 24.4

Competition rank: 7th

Players 30 or above: Robbie Gray, Travis Boak, Charlie Dixon, Tom Jonas, Steven Motlop, Trent McKenzie

Goal for 2023: Must contend. The slippery slide this year was unexpected.

Robbie Gray will turn 35 before next season starts, but he will go around again if he wants to.

Gray was flying at the start of the season before a knee injury in Round 1 that put him back and has hurt his mobility and agility ever since. He looks restricted and is playing accordingly.

If he can get his body right again and rediscover some form in the second half of the season, Port will have little hesitation in signing him up to go again.

Trent McKenzie is an undersized lock down defender and remains a beautiful kick coming out of defensive 50 and will get another deal, especially on the back of the knee injury to highly-rated young defender Jake Pasini.

The heat will be on Steven Motlop to produce a big second half of the year to keep his spot on the list.

The 31-year-old has played all but one game so far this season and is delivering high score assist numbers, but is averaging just 0.8 goals a game as a small forward.

Travis Boak is out of contract but is an ultimate professional and is playing selfless and good enough football to go around again.

RICHMOND

Average age of 2022 list: 25

Competition rank: 3rd

Players 30 or above: Shane Edwards, Jack Riewoldt, Robbie Tarrant, Trent Cotchin, Dustin Martin, Dylan Grimes, Kane Lambert, Marlion Pickett

Goal for 2023: Keep injecting the kids

As a three-time premiership captain, Trent Cotchin is a revered person at Punt Rd and has still played some reasonable football this season.

However, it looks like we are watching the last few months of his decorated career.

The Tigers need to move on and give some of their younger midfielders some more midfield minutes, with a large crop of players having been starved of opportunity in recent years.

Shane Edwards has fought back from a slow start to the season but it would also be right to call time on his illustrious career at almost 34 years of age.

Jack Riewoldt continues to amaze me and is working remarkably well together with Tom Lynch.

Having already booted 24 goals this year, if he has the appetite to play on you could not see Richmond winding him up.

A decision on Kane Lambert’s future will come down to medical advice given his lingering hip issues, but if he is cleared on that front the Tigers would be keen to see him continue given he is an important role player and the team is better when he is in it.

Is this Trent Cotchin’s final season in yellow and black? Picture: Getty Images
Is this Trent Cotchin’s final season in yellow and black? Picture: Getty Images

ST KILDA

Average age of 2022 list: 24.7

Competition rank: 5th

Players 30 or above: Paddy Ryder, Jarryn Geary, Dan Hannebery, Tom Campbell

Goal for 2023: Stop the tease. Are you the real deal?

Jarryn Geary has been a spirited player and a fantastic leader of this club for a long time, but his body has been bashed and crashed and he won’t be given another contract.

It’s also a no-brainer to move on Dan Hannebery, who has chewed up a lot of salary cap money in his time at the Saints. He has not been able to deliver much on the field given his body has continually broken down and failed him.

What we have never been able to question about Hannebery during his career has been his courage to run and his attack on the ball. It’s sad Saints fans never saw him at his best.

Paddy Ryder is now 34 but has indicated he is keen to play on and his form this year justifies it.

There’s a good chance Tom Campbell will survive as a back-up ruck option, especially given Jack Hayes went down with an ACL injury earlier this season. It’s a good time to be a ruckman.

SYDNEY

Average age of 2022 list: 24.6

Competition rank: 6th

Players 30 or above: Lance Franklin, Josh Kennedy, Callum Sinclair, Dane Rampe, Tom Hickey, Sam Reid

Goal for 2023: Current trajectory continues upwards

Combative veteran midfielder Josh Kennedy won’t get another contract, but hopefully we haven’t seen the last of him after his serious hamstring injury in Round 10.

Kennedy has found himself squeezed out of the onball brigade and the wing is not the right spot for him. He has the experience but his lack of speed is his issue.

He’s had a great career but father time has caught up with him and it will be a tough call for the Swans to bring down the curtains on his career but one that needs to be made.

Lance Franklin turns 36 next January, but doesn’t look it.

He is still providing great output and is a great asset for Logan McDonald to learn from in the forward line, which will see him earn a one-year contract extension.

Sam Reid has only played six games this year but has impacted in those games and is a versatile tall that Sydney needs to keep around.

One of Callum Sinclair or Sam Naismith will need to be retained as a back-up ruckman to Tom Hickey and Peter Ladhams, but the other one will likely be out the door. I’d keep Sinclair as Naismith’s body cannot be trusted.

Josh Kennedy has been sidelined with a serious hamstring injury. Picture: AFL Photos/Getty Images
Josh Kennedy has been sidelined with a serious hamstring injury. Picture: AFL Photos/Getty Images

WEST COAST

Average age of 2022 list: 25

Competition rank: 2nd

Players 30 or above: Josh Kennedy, Shannon Hurn, Nic Naitanui, Luke Shuey, Jack Redden, Brad Sheppard, Jeremy McGovern, Jamie Cripps, Jack Darling, Andrew Gaff

Goal for 2023: Tough calls needed to fast-track rebuild

Two very experienced players in Shannon Hurn and Josh Kennedy are on the home stretch to the end of their careers, which will most likely be closed when contract offers are not forthcoming at the end of the season.

I’ve never heard a bad word about Kennedy and Hurn is a no-fuss player who still reads the ball and intercepts well but looks like he’s on his last legs.

Jack Darling, Jamie Cripps and Jeremy McGovern aren’t going anywhere, while Luke Shuey is the Eagles’ best ball user and just needs to get his body right.

I’d expect Jack Redden to get another opportunity next year, while Nic Naitanui remains the club’s No. 1 ruckman and an important player when fit so he will get a contract renewal.

WESTERN BULLDOGS

Average age of 2022 list: 24.9

Competition rank: 4th

Players 30 or above: Stefan Martin, Taylor Duryea, Alex Keath, Tom Liberatore, Josh Bruce

Goal for 2023: The sun normally sets in the west, but it needs to rise in the west now

Of the Bulldogs’ five over-30s, only Tom Liberatore and Josh Bruce are contracted beyond next year.

However, defenders Alex Keath and Taylor Duryea are no-brainers to sign up again. Keath is their defensive pillar and Duryea has great experience and leadership and plays on opposition smaller/medium type forwards with great effect.

The only one that won’t be given a contract is Stefan Martin, who turns 36 in November.

The Bulldogs got what they wanted from the former Brisbane ruckman in some assistance for Tim English last year.

English has since blossomed back into being the Bulldogs’ No. 1 ruckman — and has now arguably become one of the top-three ruckman in the competition.

He has back up from Jordan Sweet, who must be used more by coach Luke Beveridge.

Originally published as Mick McGuane: Every club’s over-30s, who will retire and who should play on

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