Matthew Boyd knew 2017 would be his last AFL season as soon as he agreed to a new contract late last year and the retiring Western Bulldogs champion has no regrets about deciding to play on for another year.
After starting his media conference at Whitten Oval on Tuesday by joking that it was a big turnout for a contract extension, the three-time All-Australian confirmed he wouldn’t continue playing in 2018.
Injury and form have restricted Boyd to just nine of a possible 19 games this year.
The former captain had the chance to finish his career with a premiership as his last game, but the 34-year-old felt he had too much to offer on the field to call it quits 10 months ago.
“At the end of last year I felt like my form was pretty good, I felt like I was contributing to where the team was going and I still felt like I had something to give. I still feel now that I’ve got plenty to give both on and off the field for this footy club. So I’m excited about what the next seven weeks hold and how I can continue to contribute,” said Boyd, who described the Bulldogs as an extended family.
“I’ve got no regrets in making that decision … I talked to the playing group about never giving up while you’ve still got something to give.
“This year has given me a great opportunity to grow as a person and to deal with some adversity and I’m proud of how I’ve gone through that period of my life. I think my character has shone through and I’ve handled myself with integrity and I’m proud of that.
“But I think most importantly what this extra year has given me is that time to spend with the people in this room who mean so much to me – the players and the staff and the footy club as a whole. It’s been a great place to work at and to explore a journey.”
Incredibly, Boyd feels more fulfilled as a footballer this year having had to deal with playing his fewest games in a season since his debut 2003 year, than he did last year when he achieved the ultimate success as he helped guide the Bulldogs to their drought-breaking flag.
“Success and fulfillment, do they go hand in hand? I’m not quite sure if that’s the case,” Boyd said.
“Certainly having that success was unbelievable and I’m so proud of this group and I’m proud of my small involvement in that group, but I feel really fulfilled with my career given the year I’m going through now and I’ve been able to handle myself the right way.
“That makes me feel really good about my career, so I probably feel more fulfilled this time given I’ve been able to deal with more adversity than I did even last year after we won the flag.
“So that might sound a bit strange but footy is a game that teaches you so many life lessons. I’m so glad that I’ve been able to learn those lessons at a relatively young age in life.”
With 291 career games to his credit, Boyd holds the record for most games played as a player picked up in a rookie draft.
He will finish with three best-and-fairests, three All-Australian jumpers, a coveted premiership and having captained his club for three years.
Boyd described his career as a “fantastic journey” and “a ride of a lifetime” that seemed “a fairly long way away” when he was slugging it out in the Frankston reserves in 2002 as a 20-year-old.
“At the end of that year at Frankston reserves I almost conceded the fact that I wouldn’t get picked up and I’m really appreciative to [former Bulldogs recruiting manager] Scott Clayton, who gave me that opportunity to go on the rookie list,” Boyd said.
“He saw something in me that not many others saw and lucky he was getting up early in the morning to come and watch the VFL development league, which it is now. So, really fortunate and I never envisioned that I’d play as many games as I played and be lucky enough to have the career I’ve had at AFL level.”
Boyd said he still pinches himself over last year’s premiership triumph, especially given the club was in such a “dark space” after the 2014 season with their coach Brendan McCartney sacked, their CEO Simon Garlick departing, their captain Ryan Griffen defecting to GWS and Brownlow medallist Adam Cooney joining Essendon.
Boyd is “a little bit embarrassed” to be in the same company as fellow 2017 retirees Nick Riewoldt, Luke Hodge, Sam Mitchell, Matt Priddis and Scott Thompson, who he described as “superstars and icons of our game”, but Bulldogs coach Luke Beveridge said Boyd shared many of the qualities those five players possess.
“All those retirees share that modesty and that humility and they’d all probably say the same about themselves,” Beveridge said.
“He led by example on the field and led off the field and in so many ways he has shaped the trajectory and the journey of our footy club along with his teammates.
“He can walk away from the footy club at the end of the year self-assured in the knowledge that he is adored and loved by everyone here and probably respected by the footy community and in particular our supporter base and our members.”
Boyd hasn’t played senior footy since round 16 but still hopes to work his way back into the line-up this year.