His body broken but his zest for life intact, Collingwood star Dane Swan says it took weeks to accept his AFL career was over.
Swan’s future was in doubt since he suffered a serious foot injury in round one of the AFL season, with the injury likened to the impact suffered in a car crash.
Announcing his retirement on Tuesday, the 32-year-old said he made a decision “two or three weeks ago” that he wouldn’t be able to play on.
“I just couldn’t trust my foot to go round any more,” he said.
“I was trying to fight the decision a lot in my head. I’d probably known for a while that I don’t think I could play.
“In my gut … I needed to go.
“They say die a hero before you live long enough to be the villain.”
In 14 AFL seasons, Swan certainly became a hero, achieving cult status for his uncanny knack of reading the play and his colourful personality.
The five-time All-Australian and three-time Collingwood club champion was nigh unstoppable in his heyday.
Between 2010 and 2013, Swan played 83 regular-season games and polled Brownlow votes in more than half of them.
He was judged best afield in 20 of those matches, winning the 2011 Brownlow Medal with a record tally of 34 votes.
Swan said his highlight was the 2010 premiership, won in a grand final replay after their drawn decider with St Kilda.
Collingwood feted him on Tuesday, with past and present coaches Mick Malthouse and Nathan Buckley sharing a stage with club president Eddie McGuire and Swan’s father Billy.
Swan played the joker to the end, grabbing the microphone and saying “it’s a pretty big crowd for a one-year deal”.
Malthouse said he saw enough in the left-footer to draft him with pick No.58 in 2001 even though “his feet were pointing east and west” and he could barely kick.
“(He had a) strong family background, strong football club and strong mateship,” Malthouse said.
“The pride factor was the greatest because he was not going to let people beat him.”
McGuire called Swan one of the greatest players in the club’s history and the “player of his generation”.
Buckley said he told Swan earlier this year he wanted him to play on in 2017.
“We were looking forward to seeing him as a forward who came and pinch hit through the middle,” he said. “I reckon he could have done some real damage.
“(The injury) was about the only thing that was going to stop him.”
Swan broke three bones in his foot, including a Lisfranc fracture, in the first minutes of the Magpies’ season-opening clash with Sydney.
“I’m sad to finish up,” he wrote on Instagram.
“But can’t wait for the next part of my life to start to invest more time into my friends and family who have invested 15 years of there (sic) life into mine.”
*Premiership winner in 2010
*Brownlow winner in 2011, finished third in 2010, 2013
*All-Australian in 2009-2013
*AFL Coaches’ Association and AFL Players’ Association awards in 2010.