Sport Sport Focus Lenny, Lleyton and the end of a sporting life
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Lenny, Lleyton and the end of a sporting life

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The arc of a sporting career is a microcosm of life.

You start out a pup, find your feet, grow into yourself, hit your prime and then, before you know it, you’re on a slow and steady downward slide.

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Lleyton Hewitt feels the pain. Photo: Getty

And that’s if it goes well.

Some sporting careers, like some lives, never get that much.

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Take that of former Geelong defender Matthew Egan, who was forced to call a halt to his career because of a foot injury after only 59 games.

This week Egan announced he was launching legal action against his surgeon and the Geelong club doctor, claiming he was given bad advice on how to manage his broken navicular bone in a pipe-dream bid to play in the 2007 grand final.

At his zenith Hewitt was a machine with one of the best returns of serve the game has seen. 

One can only wonder what Egan, an All Australian centre half-back in 2007, feels inside when he sees Harry Taylor patrolling the Cats’ back half.

Jon Patton had the footballing world at his feet 16 months ago. Then he journeyed to Canberra for a game against St Kilda, ran onto a loose ball in the Giants’ forward line and was wrapped up in a tackle from Rhys Stanley that wrecked his right nee.

Against Melbourne a couple of weeks ago he flew for a mark on the wing and blew it out again, leaving his germinal career on the precipice – at 21.

That’s how fragile it is.

There’s nothing better in sport than watching a young athlete, or a young side, emerge.

Nick Kyrgios and his bright pink headphones first appeared in the collective consciousness at this year’s Australian Open and when he rolled Rafael Nadal on his run to the Wimbledon quarter-finals the world sat up and took notice.

The roadshow is back at Flushing Meadows, in brighter clothes, and again we are enthralled.

Yet while the Kyrgios meteor lights up the sky, Lleyton Hewitt’s arc has flamed out – bludgeoned out in the first round by the younger, stronger Tomas Berdych.

At his zenith Hewitt was a machine with one of the best returns of serve the game has seen, but the pugnacious South Australian has been rendered not just mortal, but ordinary by the remorseless passage of time.

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Lenny Hayes gave his all for the Saints. Photo: Getty

Then there is Lenny Hayes, a man who kept Father Time at bay for longer than most.

Lenny is all heart, ironic given he was diagnosed with a hole in his in 2012, a condition requiring surgery that left him with a 24cm scar.

He’s been good this year, good enough perhaps to win a fourth Trevor Barker Award, but against Richmond on Sunday, as the sun set behind grey skies over the MCG, the warrior looked licked.

That, plus the scars on both his reconstructed knees, are the visible signs of a persistent man who gave his all in pursuit of the ultimate prize and will walk away from the game without it.

What he’ll take with him is a little piece of the heart of every person who ever watched him play, who ever saw him hunt the footy with no regard for his future, and smiled.

Watching him come back from a second knee reconstruction that wiped out his 2011 to win St Kilda’s best and fairest in 2012, watching him drag his body across every blade of grass in the 2010 draw grand final en route to winning the Norm Smith, there could be no doubt Lenny was something beautiful.

He’s been good this year, good enough perhaps to win a fourth Trevor Barker Award, but against Richmond on Sunday, as the sun set behind grey skies over the MCG, the warrior looked licked.

Just one more game now, Lenny. Four more quarters of service for the club you’ve never let down before you can rest your bones old timer.

At your best you were supernatural. But prime ministers retire, plumbers retire, racehorses retire – they put them out to stud.

Enjoy the quiet champ.

Dispatches

Thursday brought the news that Lenny’s old mate Luke Ball would also call time on his career at season’s end because he requires back surgery.

If Lenny was the benchmark in persistence, Ball wouldn’t have been far behind. Highly touted at the beginning of his career, the midfielder was blighted by injury in his early years, and famously benched by St Kilda coach Ross Lyon for the final quarter of their grand final loss to Geelong in 2009.

Twelve months later, Ball was a premiership player with Collingwood, who thumped Lyon’s Saints a week after the famous drawn grand final in which Lenny won his Norm.

His name will forever be intertwined with those of Luke Hodge and Chris Judd, the first three men called in that super draft of 2001. Unfortunately for Ball, he was a third wheel in that exalted company, but he was able to extract a great, 222-game career that scaled the heights.

An astute mind, Ball is the president of the AFL Players’ Association and an ornament to the game. Let’s hope he is not lost to it in retirement.

And Daniel Giansiracusa is lining up in his final match for the Western Bulldogs this weekend, in the Sunday night blockbuster against GWS.

Gia never captured my heart like Lenny did, but he was seductive in his own way: a smooth-moving, beguilingly-handsome-devil of a footballer. His green-vest, two-goal cameo to give the Doggies a two-point win over Richmond was one of my season highlights.

It should also be noted that Gia, in recent seasons, has joined Andrew Gaze and Fabrizio Ravanelli in the pantheon of my favourite grey-haired athletes.

Gia, we salute you, your career, and your abandonment of the Just For Men – may you keep rocking the salt and pepper into wherever life leads you next.  

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