ESSENDON defender Mal Michael will retire from senior football at the end of this season.
Michael, 31, has played 34 matches for the Bombers after playing the majority of his 235-game career at Collingwood and the Brisbane Lions.
He was a member of the Lions' three premiership teams from 2001 to 2003.
It was at the Lions that he also established himself as one of the competition's most respected backmen.
Michael joined Essendon in controversial circumstances, announcing his retirement from the game but then crossing to Windy Hill in the 2007 NAB Pre-Season Draft.
He played all 22 matches in his first season with the club.
Michael has added another 12 games this year and will play against Adelaide at Telstra Dome on Saturday afternoon – captain Matthew Lloyd's 250th game.
The decision to call it quits was influenced by his struggle to bounce back from matches like he once used to.
"The warning signs were there," Michael said on Friday.
"I was still sore and tired on Friday from the week before's game and waking up Saturday morning hoping I would be right to get through the games."
Michael said it had been a privilege to have such a successful senior career and acknowledged he "had a pretty good run".
He said when he arrived at Collingwood he was a skinny 68kg and had to concentrate primarily on putting on weight. Now at 100kg, he felt he didn't have the best body shape for modern football.
Michael grew up in Brisbane and was expected to be drafted by the-then Brisbane Bears when representing QAFL club Morningside.
Although he had trained with the Bears, it was Collingwood that rookie-listed him.
Encouraged by Nathan Buckley, he made his debut for the Pies in 1997 and became the first player under the league's rookie system to play at senior level.
Though hampered by injuries, he played 61 games for the Magpies until he was traded to the Lions at the end of 2000 in exchange for Jarrod Molloy and draft selection No. 44.
He had a short wait for success, becoming a member of the Lions' first premiership side in his opening season with the club.
Premiership medallions followed in 2002 and 2003, both thanks to grand-final victories over his former club, but Port Adelaide ended that run a year later.
After the experience of a losing grand final, Michael openly questioned the focus of his teammates – believing they had allowed themselves to be distracted in the lead-up to the match.
Michael represented Australia in the two International Rules Series matches against Ireland in Dublin in 2004 and remained at the Lions for another two years.
He left the Gabba at the age of 29, boasting an enviably consistent record that saw him play 140 of a possible 145 games in his six years at the club.
While his time at Essendon has lacked the impact of his past achievements, his impression on the game this decade is obvious.
Michael rated Tony Lockett, Barry Hall and Lloyd as his toughest opponents and said he had left the Essendon backline in good hands.
He will concentrate on business interests and charity work in Papua New Guinea in his retirement.
Essendon coach Matthew Knights paid tribute to Michael's contribution to the club and the role he played in developing the young list.
Knights added that fellow veteran Jason Johnson would play for Bendigo this week, but would return to senior ranks for a farewell fortnight in rounds 21 and 22.
The views in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of the clubs or the AFL.