It is getting harder and harder for AFL players to back up week after week after week.
The challenges which face them in so many different forms these days make it a significant achievement to complete a full season without missing a game.
So significant that only three Queenslanders will complete the 2017 home-and-away season this weekend without having missed a game.
Fremantle’s Lachie Weller, Brisbane’s Harris Andrews and Port Adelaide’s Charlie Dixon will share the title of Queensland football’s Ironman of the Year.
Weller, in his third season at Fremantle, will complete his second season in a row without missing a game and boasts the longest streak of consecutive games among current players. It is now 43 and will become 44 against Essendon at Etihad Stadium on Sunday.
Dixon, in his seventh season, will complete his first full season as he continues an upward progression in the durability stakes. His annual games tally since his debut in 2011 reads 10-12-13-14-16-18-21 – soon to be 22.
Andrews, in his third season, will complete his first full season, having played 19 games in his 2015 debut campaign and 17 games last year.
There would have been a fourth in the same group had Brisbane’s Eric Hipwood not been rested in Round 19. Otherwise he hasn’t missed a game in his second season, and, excluding his rest, has played 31 games in a row since his debut in Round 13 last year.
Andrews and Dixon will join 32 other Queenslanders, including Weller, who have played a full home-and-away season.
Former Brisbane great Marcus Ashcroft, whose staggering run of 170 games in a row from 1992-2000 ranks 11th all-time in the AFL, is a runaway leader in this group, having played every game 11 times.
St.Kilda champion Nick Riewoldt, who will play his last game this weekend, and former Hawthorn great Jason Dunstall, each played every game in a season five times.
Mal Michael went without missing a game in four seasons, and did so at two clubs – Brisbane in 2002-04-05 and Essendon in 2007.
Among five players each with three unblemished seasons is former Essendon and Melbourne player Ray Smith. And he certainly has the most bizarre full season to his credit.
Smith, who played 104 AFL games from 1971-76 after a standout rugby league career, played every game in 1975 – with two clubs.
He played the first 12 games of the year with Essendon before a mid-season trade to Melbourne, where he played the last 10 games. Both teams missed the finals.
Smith also played every game in 1973 and ’74.
Other Queenslanders will three full seasons have been St.Kilda pair Sam Gilbert and Max Hudghton, Brisbane’s Daniel Merrett,, the Western Bulldogs’ Mitch Hahn, and Scott McIvor, who achieved this fear with Fitzroy (once) and Brisbane (twice).
Jason Akermanis also played two full seasons at different clubs – Brisbane in 2004 and the Bulldogs in 2008.
The full list of unblemished home-and-away seasons is:-
11 – Marcus Ashcroft (1991-93-94-95-96-97-98-99-2001-02-03.
5 – Jason Dunstall (1987-89-92-93-96)
5 – Nick Riewoldt (2002-03-04-06-14)
4 – Mal Michael (2002-04-05-07)
3 – Sam Gilbert (2010-11-16)
3 – Mitch Hahn (2004-08-09)
3 – Max Hudghton (1998-99-2000)
3 – Scott McIvor (1986-98-99)
3 – Daniel Merrett (2007-08-12)
3 – Ray Smith (1973-74-75)
2 – Jason Akermanis (2004-08)
2 – Gavin Crosisca (1988-98)
2 – David Hale (2005-06)
2 – Jarrod Harbrow (2011-14)
2 – Andrew Raines (2006-07)
2 – Lee Spurr (2014-16)
2 – Kurt Tippett (2009-10)
2 – Michael Voss (1996-2001)
2 – Dayne Zorko (2013-15)
1 – Tom Bell (2015)
1 – Clint Bizzell (2003)
1 – Jamie Charman (2003)
1 – Robert Copeland (2004)
1 – Frank Dunell (1984)
1 – Matthew Kennedy (1998)
1 – Stephen Lawrence (1991)*
1 – Joel Macdonald (2009)
1 – Luke McGuane (2009)
1 – Dean McRae (1988)
1 – Daniel Pratt (2007)
1 – Cheynee Stiller (2007)
1 – Lachie Weller (2016)
Among Voss’ two full seasons listed here is his Brownlow Medal year of 1996, when he played all 22 home-and-away games plus two finals only to miss the preliminary final through injury.
Ashcroft had a similar campaign in his last season in 2003, when he played 22 home-and-away games and two finals before missing the preliminary final and returning for his last game in the grand final.
In 1984 Frank Dunell at Essendon played 22 home-and-away games plus the first final, missed the second final, and returned for the grand final.
All other full seasons listed here cover complete home-and-away seasons plus finals where applicable.
The Stephen Lawrence listed here is the Hawthorn version – not the Steven Lawrence who played for Brisbane and St.Kilda.
The record for most games in a season by a Queenslander, including finals, is 26 by Brisbane’s Jamie Charman in 2003 and Gilbert in 2010, when he played in a drawn grand final plus the replay.
Andrews, who will not turn 21 until December this year, will be the sixth youngest Queenslander to complete an unblemished season.
Dean McRae, the Sandgate product who played every game in his second season at North Melbourne in 1988, is the youngest. He didn’t turn 20 until November of that year.
Riewoldt turned 20 in October after his first unblemished season, while Ashcroft and Crosisca did likewise in September and McIvor turned 20 in August of his first season without missing a game.
Of the three Queensland ‘ironmen’ of 2017, only Dixon will have a chance to extend his season into September. Andrews and Weller will close out their year this weekend.
In key Queensland selection news for Round 23 of the Toyota AFL premiership, Wylie Buzza has been given another chance to press for a finals berth when retained in the Geelong side for Saturday night’s critical clash wit the GWS Giants in Geelong.
It will be Buzzi’s sixth game since his debut in Round 15.
Kurt Tippett, too, will get another chance to lock in his spot in the Sydney side.
Tippett will play his fourth game in a row since returning from injury against Carlton at the SCG on Saturday, sharing the ruck duties again with Callum Sinclair.
Sam Naismith, who has been the No.1 ruckman for most of the season, was passed fit but overlooked at selection. He would have played in the NEAFL but the Swans have a bye.
Sadly, Josh Wagner was dropped from the Melbourne side ahead of Saturday’s MCG clash with Collingwood that will determine where they will be placed heading into September. He is an emergency.
Josh Smith, too, was left out of the Collingwood side, but Josh Thomas will play his ninth game in a row to round out what has been a first-class return after two years on the sideline. Smith is an emergency.
Jack Bowes was recalled to the Gold Coast side to play his 11th game against Port Adelaide in Adelaide on Saturday night, but Gilbert will miss Riewoldt’s 336 and last game for St.Kilda against Richmond at the MCG on Sunday. He has an abdominal strain.
North Melbourne ruckman Braydon Preuss, who has played eight games in his first season and was hoping to play his first game in his home state against the Brisbane Lions at the Gabba on Saturday afternoon, has been denied by a shoulder injury.
Fellow Queenslander Josh Williams is a Kangaroos’ emergency.
Ben Keays is an emergency for an unchanged Lions side, while Brendan Whitecross is a Hawthorn emergency for the Friday night farewell extravaganza between Hawthorn and the Bulldogs at Etihad Stadium, when Luke Hodge, Robert Murphy and Matthew Boyd will play their last game.
By Peter Blucher