HAWTHORN captain Richie Vandenberg has announced he will retire from AFL football at the end of the 2007 season.
In an emotional press conference at the club’s Waverley headquarters on Thursday, Vandenberg told the media his body could no longer allow him to play at the top level, with a troublesome back injury hampering him for the past “three to four years”.
He thanked the club’s supporters, his teammates and the Hawthorn Football Club but said after his body had broken down earlier this season – he managed just six home and away matches this season – he began contemplating retirement.
“I started really thinking about it about 12 weeks ago,” Vandenberg said.
“Certainly at the start of this year, I thought I’d like to be able to go on again next season … the body has been letting me down (and) eventually it’s probably worn my mind down as well.”
Vandenberg has played 143 matches in the brown and gold and captained the club since 2005.
After a decade at the club, breaking the news to his teammates wasn’t easy and understanding it was time to hang up the boots was also a battle.
“The hardest part was just coming to the true realisation that you know in your heart of hearts that it’s the right time,” he said.
“Getting yourself to admit that, I found that to be very difficult. But then once I had made the decision, it just felt like a true relief.”
The 30-year-old said he was happy in the knowledge he was leaving when the Hawks were again a finals side, despite many believing the club is on the cusp on something special.
“I feel that it would have been just too much hard yakka next year to try and go through another pre-season, knowing that time’s not going to make it easier for me, it’s actually going to make it harder,” he said.
“Yeah, I’m disappointed I’m not going to be a part of the future of the footy club in terms of being able to get out on the ground.
“But I’m certainly going to be very excited watching the guys knowing that I had a great affiliation with them and the club.”
The most emotional part of the press conference came when Vandenberg spoke of his parents’ commitment to watch him play throughout his 143-game career.
He paused on a couple of occasions and the tears flowed as he mentioned their dedication.
“My parents live six hours away and in the past 10 years they’ve … in the past 10 years my parents have driven six hours each way from a place called Coomealla and back to watch me play,” Vandenberg said.
“And that has been one of the greatest joys I’ve got out of the game.”
Hawks coach Alastair Clarkson, who sat beside Vandenberg throughout Thursday’s announcement, said the skipper would leave “an enormous legacy” at the club.
“I was shocked [when he told me],” Clarkson said.
“He’s battled for three years - only those within the club know the types of demands he’s placed on himself to try to get himself right from week to week.
“He’s such a proud man that he knows that his best form of leadership is leading from the front out on the ground, and he’s been enormously frustrated with that and he thinks that the time’s right now to pass the baton on to some of the younger generation of this club.”
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