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Inspirational Kangaroos veteran calls time on AFL career

Ben Cunnington will retire from the AFL this Saturday, almost a year to the day since he returned to the senior side after beating cancer for the second time.

The two-time North Melbourne best and fairest winner will retire after playing Essendon on Saturday at Docklands.

Cunnington is a revered figure at Arden St and, along with Alastair Clarkson’s return to coaching the team last weekend, North now have ample motivation for upsetting their fierce rivals.

The Kangaroos are on an 18-game losing streak.

Cunnington, 32, has played 237 games for North, but he has been out of the senior side since playing the first eight matches this season.

He made an emotional comeback in round 22 last season after recovering from a second bout of testicular cancer.

Cunnington was sidelined for more than a year because of his illness and needed surgery and chemotherapy.

“I couldn’t be more proud of what I’ve achieved on and off the field in the 14 years at this level,” Cunnington told teammates on Tuesday morning.

“From the moment the club drafted me, it was a dream come true as we were surrounded by interstate clubs on draft night.

“Then to walk into a club that suited my personality, and allowed me to be myself, I couldn’t have asked for a better recipe to get the best out of myself.”

Cunnington said in the wake of his comeback, he had lost the desire to keep playing in the AFL.

“I’m proud and grateful of what I’ve overcome in the past few years and for the club to give me the best chance and opportunity to play AFL footy again,” he said.

“But I felt I lost my hunger once I returned, my perspective in life was too great. Then when I fell out of the senior team, I struggled to have the motivation or drive to get back in.

“That’s when I knew it wasn’t fair on myself or you blokes that I continued on next year without being able to give my 100 per cent effort, especially when there are hungry young kids out there that would do anything for the opportunity and to help this team get better.”

At his peak, Cunnington was one of the AFL’s most reliable midfielders and he racked up an incredible 32 contested possessions in a 2018 match against Richmond.

Essendon ruckman Andrew Phillips also announced he would retire at the end of the season.

Phillips has played 79 games at GWS, Carlton and Essendon, a with a career-high 17 this season at the Bombers.


Full list of AFL retirements in 2023 so far


Fischer McAsey: The 21-year-old quit the club at the start of the year, having played 10 games for the Crows in 2020.


Andrew Phillips: The 32-year-old will hand up the boots at the end of the team’s season. The ruckman currently has 79 games to his name, with 14 at the Giants, 27 at the Blues, and 38 at the Bombers.


Max Lynch: The 24-year-old ruckman was directed by doctors to retire from the game due to the risks of further concussion problems. He finishes with 11 games, with three at Collingwood and eight at Hawthorn.

North Melbourne

Ben Cunnington: Farewells the game as one of the best contested ball winners of the past decade, with 237 games for the Kangaroos. The 32-year-old from Cobden, in south-west Victoria, won two club best and fairest medals.

Aaron Hall: The 32-year-old retires after 161 games, with 103 at the Suns and 58 at the Kangaroos. Used as a forward, a midfielder, and a defender at various times, he could only manage six games in 2023.

Jack Ziebell: The North Melbourne skipper from 2017 to 2022, he will retire at the end of the season about 20 games short of reaching the 300 mark.


Jason Castagna: The triple-premiership winning 26-year-old made the shock call to retire pre-season, after 134 games.

Robbie Tarrant: The key defender announced his retirement mid-season, after battling a chronic hip injury. The younger brother of former Collingwood champ Chris Tarrant played 174 games for North Melbourne and 20 for Richmond.


Lance Franklin: One of only six men to kick more than 1,000 VFL/AFL goals, the two-time premiership forward leaves the game as possibly the greatest player of the modern era.

West Coast

Shannon Hurn: West Coast’s games record holder will hang up his boots at the end of the season with more than 330 games to his name. He finishes up as the 2018 premiership skipper and a two-time All Australian.

Luke Shuey: The 2018 Norm Smith medallist and two-time club best and fairest winner will retire at the end of the season just short of 250 games. The midfielder took over as West Coast captain from Hurn in 2019.




Author: Russell White