Ben Absolum didn't get the finals farewell he was due for, nor the shot at a fairytale grand final finish, but the star midfielder says he'll retire content after a memorable 16 year first grade career.
From a first grade premiership with Collingullie as a teenager in 2008, to leading East Wagga-Kooringal out of the wilderness in 2016, Absolum's highlights will live longer in the memory than COVID-19 costing him a final finals fling with EWK.
"I was really looking forward to playing finals and was hoping to go out on a good note, having a go at something but it wasn't to be," Absolum, 32, said.
"You move on. That's life.
"Halfway through the year I knew this would be it. Once you start having that in your mind - 'am I going to finish up, or am I going to keep playing? - I knew it was time.
"I've got young kids now. They're playing footy. Even though they love coming to the footy, I like watching them play sport and doing their stuff. I've been doing it for 15 or 16 years. I think I've had a fair go at it."
The abrupt end to the season left Absolum stranded on 98 games at the Hawks.
He had left EWK after 2019's grand final disappointment against North Wagga for a reunion season with mates at Collingullie-Glenfield Park last year.
When coronavirus put paid to that, Absolum flirted with retirement before going to Gumly for a last hurrah.
Hamstring injuries hampered him early but the former Hawks captain was thriving late in the year in an ominous sight for rival finalists.
"Once I knew I wasn't playing at Collingullie, I've still got really strong connections at East Wagga and I thought if I'm going to have one more year, I wanted to finish playing there," he said.
"I was stringing some games together and was hoping to continue on into finals. But it's the way it goes. .. I really enjoyed the season, not being captain, no pressure, just being one of the boys, going out and trying to get a kick."
Absolum has captained the Farrer League representative team, played more than 100 senior games with the Demons and was instrumental in the revival of the Hawks from 2014 under Gavin McMahon.
After two grand final losses, the Hawks finally broke through in 2016, with Absolum best-on-ground against Coleambally.
"Two grand final wins are a highlight. 2016 was pretty special, being captain, breaking a premiership drought after losing for a few years. And Dad and Pop both played at East Wagga," he said.
"And 2008 was good. I was 19. We were a very young team, and playing with all my mates. Looking back, that was pretty special."
Absolum had lost three before that success. He then had two seasons with Western Suburbs in Sydney while the Demons completed a hat-trick, then returned for their transition to the Riverina League (and played in 2012 and 2013 grand final losses).
"Losing grand finals is always hard. I've lost a few, and a couple by a kick. One at Collingullie when Brad Aiken was coaching (in 2007, against Matt Hard's Northern Jets) and 2015 (against The Rock-Yerong Creek) didn't fall our way in the last part of the game," he said.
"I feel lucky to have played in them. Some people don't get to play in any grand finals. So I've been lucky to play in some really good teams and get all the way there to the last day. You win, you lose, that's the way it goes."
Absolum said he was fortunate to play with some great teammates, including Chris Gordon and Marc Geppert at 'Gullie and the Hawks, while Aiken is the most impressive footballer he saw throughout his career.
"He was head and shoulders above everyone really. The way he went about it on the field. He was super talented. He could turn a game at the drop of a hat," Absolum said.
Nathan McDonald (TRYC) and Matt Hard were tough opponents in his early days while current Jets star Mitch Haddrill is the standout of the modern era.
Absolum's career spanned generations, from seeing the brilliance of Northern Jets' Rob Harper early, to finishing up alongside the Hawks' next era with players like Harry Fitzsimmons and Ryan Bourne coming into their own.
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