Paul Hasleby is looking to a bright future focused on family after retiring from Fremantle, writes Joseph Sapienza.

As 29-year-old Paul Hasleby recounted his belief that he could return to AFL football after a devastating knee injury cut short his season in 2008, he thanked those loved ones who supported him and kept him on track to fulfil his goals.

“No doubt my girlfriend, Nicole,” he said gratefully, as an awkward silence descended on the press conference.

Then a faint murmur from his partner caught his ear.

“Fiancee? There you go, forgot about that,” he smiled, sending his teammates and club staff into fits of laughter.

“She’s been a tower of strength for me through a lot of tough times. It’s been a journey. You gotta realise that every player, they have people behind them that ride every bump along the way and she’s certainly done that, along with my family they’ve been a rock …”.

Hasleby revealed the heartbreaking decision to leave the game on his own terms had been on his mind for a couple of weeks after speaking with family and close friends. On Friday, he spoke to Dockers football manager Chris Bond in Launceston about the choice he had made.

His concerns that he could not see out what would have been his 11th year in the AFL also weighed heavily in his announcement.

“(It was a) very tough decision,” Hasleby said. “I know where this club has come from in the past and I certainly know where it’s going and it’s going in the right direction so that made it even harder.

“But I just thought for myself and my young family – we’ve got a baby due at the end of November – I think the time is right to step aside and let the young guys come through and take it forward.”

“It’s in a lot better position than when I first arrived at the club and I think the guys that have been around can be very proud of that achievement that we have taken it forward to this point.

“While I thought I could probably play another year, I’ve always prided myself on performance and keeping it at a certain level throughout the most of my career (which) I’m very proud of. But going forward there’s every opportunity that might not have been there and the level may have dropped, and I didn’t want to finish football that way after seeing a lot of teammates and players around the league probably go a year too long.”

The former East Fremantle player missed Saturday’s thumping loss to the Hawks in Launceston with a knee problem but he has been given the green light by Dockers medical staff to push for selection for the clash with Carlton on Friday night at Subiaco Oval, a game he described as the “biggest for the Fremantle Football Club since 2006”.

“I just thought it had been on my mind for a couple of weeks, and I didn’t want any distractions for myself and the football club going forward so I decided to get it all out in the open, get it out of the way and we can really set our minds and focus on the upcoming task and that’s beating Carlton … ” he said.

“I’m more than happy with my decision (to retire) and hopefully there’s another chapter left (with) the Fremantle Football Club in the next few weeks.”

Despite admitting to lacking speed across the ground, the four-time Ross Glendinning Medal-winner has thrived on his work around the stoppages and his footballing smarts to prolong his career for as long as possible – attributes he will be counting on when he embarks on a coaching career in order to give something back to the game.

“I’ve been in football for 11 years, I feel like I’ve got a degree in football and I’ve always been able to stay ahead of the game in some way shape or form,” he said.

“I haven’t always been blessed with quick legs and fast movement across the ground so I’ve always had to rely on my nous to get me through and I feel as a football coach I do have a fair bit to offer to a lot of the young players and it’s certainly an area I’ll be exploring over the coming time.”

Along with his footy brain, Hasleby has also demonstrated resiliency during his decade-long life at Fremantle Oval, especially when he was grounded by a horrific knee injury just weeks before the 2008 regular season.

However, the 2000 Rising Star was adamant he would get back on the field and become only the fourth Dockers player to reach the 200-game milestone – a feat he accomplished in round 13 away to the Blues.

“I’ve always had great faith in my ability as a football player,” he said. “I’ve overcome a lot of challenges along the way and that was another one. (It was) probably the lowest part of my football career when I had my best pre-season back in 2008 and to be injured halfway through the first NAB Cup game was very shattering for me.

“I was lucky enough to have the support of the people around me that got me through and I always had a great belief that I’d get back to playing some good football and I did that last year and I’ve certainly contributed to the team having a good year this year.”

Hasleby rated the Dockers’ first final appearance in 2003 as a special highlight, though he hinted there would be a tinge of regret if he left the game without a flag.

“I always said I wanted to play for Fremantle and that was because I wanted to be part of the first Fremantle team to win a premiership and have success,” he said.

“Hopefully that can still happen over the next few weeks but if I retire without it, there will be a bit of regret, so to speak, that we didn’t quite get there.”

But it is the little things that will give the popular Hasleby his fondest memories from his time at the Dockers, which went some way to explaining the “blubbering mess” he became when he spoke – complete with “high-pitched voice” – to his teammates early yesterday about his intentions.

“Coming in after a game, you get to sing the song and you look into each other’s eyes and there’s a real sense of accomplishment and for me it’s like a drug, I just keep wanting that feeling every time,” he said.

“You just look around and say ‘we worked hard throughout the week, we set a plan, we went and executed it and we got the job done’ and that’s probably what I would miss the most out of football along with the many friendships I have made along the way.”

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