Former Wagga junior, and two-time Hawthorn premiership player, Matt Suckling has announced his retirement from the AFL.
Suckling, who was taken in the 2007 rookie draft by the Hawks, and spent the last five years at the Western Bulldogs, had held out hope of an AFL lifeline at a third club.
The 32-year-old said it was 'a really tough decision to make' but sounded relieved to have reached it.
"I'm feeling pretty good. The stress levels, and everything that comes with being an AFL footballer, has definitely dropped," Suckling told The Daily Advertiser.
"I can take it easy for the next little bit and I suppose reflect a little bit with my partner and family and enjoy what normal life is really."
This year was anything but normal. Hamstring injuries kept Suckling to just seven games in a season spent almost entirely away from home. And then there was the upheaval of being let go by the 'Dogs.
Tantalisingly, the former East Wagga-Kooringal and Wagga Tigers footballer wants to play somewhere next year but said he doesn't have any plans at the moment.
"I'm just letting the dust settle," he said.
"I'll definitely still play footy. For 32 years old, my body's still not too bad. I've been training with guys who are still playing, I enjoy having a kick and I just love playing the game so I'll play at some level.
"I'm not exactly sure where or what but I look forward to having a run around in probably a little bit less stressful environment."
But he said it had become clear that now was his time to go from the elite level, and he's grateful for a career that included all the highs and lows of professional sport.
Selected by Hawthorn in the 2007 rookie draft, Suckling made his debut in the first round of 2009. It was the first of 102 games for the Hawks, including the 2014 and 2015 grand finals. injury had hampered his early seasons, and prevented his part in the three-peat when an ACL ruled him out of 2013.
His first game and those grand finals are the highlights.
"The week leading into a grand final and the week after, it's always a really special time especially with your close teammates," he said.
"Team success is always really nice... I think the first one (against Sydney in 2014) was pretty special after losing a grand final in 2012 and then missing the whole of 2013 with injury. I think the next grand final was pretty emotional.
"But it certainly doesn't detract from the next one (against West Coast in 2015). It would've been nice to play in a couple more but I'm forever grateful that I did get the opportunity to live out my childhood dream and get some success."
The defender joined the Bulldogs as a free agent at the end of 2015 and played 76 games with the club but was overlooked for their drought-breaking grand final win of 2016 after injury had kept him out of the preliminary final.
Reflecting on the hard yards early, when he signed five one-year contracts at the start his career, Suckling said having 14 years in the AFL system is something he'll treasure.
The left footer kicked 85 goals in his career. He played with and against some of the greats - including Hawks stars Cyril Rioli and Lance Franklin - and was part of a trio of Riverina talent in Hawthorn's golden era.
"You do definitely pinch yourself at times and realise how lucky I was," he said.
"At the Hawks, guys like Luke Breust (Temora), Isaac Smith (Cootamundra) who come from similar backgrounds to me, being NSW guys as well, we've had really strong bonds and good friendships," Suckling said, adding that it was tough to narrow down his teammates to name the best.
"I was pretty fortunate but I think Buddy Franklin or Cyril. Some of the things those two guys did, I don't think there's anyone else could do that stuff. Cyril's the ultimate team man and he could do the most freakish things, even at training."
As for tough opponents, Geelong star Steve Johnson in his heyday, when the Cats and Hawks had a fierce rivalry, is hard to forget.
"In my first couple of games, I played on Stevie Johnson when he was at Geelong and that was a tough initiation. He was such a smart, experienced footballer - for a young fella like me that was pretty daunting, pretty scary and a tough proposition," Suckling said.
He said the best advice he could give to up and coming players is to have confidence in your ability to succeed.
"Realise what you're good at, make them really strong weapons, and try and fix your deficiencies along the way," he said.
"Definitely try and figure out what your strengths are and make them as good as possible because when teams pick players, it's going to be on what your strengths are. So, if you can, make sure your weaknesses are okay and you'll get picked on your strengths."