The changing of the guard at the Fremantle Football Club was summed up in a phone call between retiring Docker Des Headland and youngster Michael Walters.

Headland – who has been a mentor to the promising second-year player – recounted a chat he had with him this week about his decision.

“I gave him a call the other night, and said ‘look mate I’m gonna retire,” the 29-year-old said, adding a disappointed sigh greeted him on the end of the line.

“(He was like) ‘you serious, you’re kidding me, you’re kidding me. Can I have your number?’.”

It was a fitting telephone call that completed the circle, as former Dockers player Dale Kickett handed Headland the number 11 jumper when the latter returned home to WA in 2003, a year after winning a premiership medal with Brisbane.

Now it’s Headland’s turn to pass on the number to another up-and-coming indigenous player – who wears no. 38 – and he promised to speak with coach Mark Harvey and football manager Chris Bond about it.

“They might have to make sure that he gets through the pre-season and do a hard training session before they can guarantee that,” Headland laughed.

As was widely expected, Headland has called time on his 12-year career in the AFL, which began in 1999 when he moved to Brisbane with his future wife at the age of 17.

He played four seasons with the Lions (52 games) and eight with the Dockers (114).

But constant battles with knee injuries in the past three seasons have plagued Headland, restricting him to just 20 games out of a possible 68 from the start of 2008.

He has become the third experienced Dockers player to leave the club, following the retirement of 208-game midfielder Paul Hasleby and the departure of Chris Tarrant (233 games) to Victoria, placing an even greater onus on the club’s youth brigade to steer the ship forward in the coming years.

Headland began the year brightly with seven goals in the first three games, before injuring his right knee in the loss to St Kilda at Etihad Stadium.

He worked hard to overcome the injury and forced his way into the side at the eleventh hour for the semi-final clash with Geelong.

However, his impact on the game was very minimal after he strained the medial ligaments in his left knee when he collided with teammate Garrick Ibbotson early in the first quarter.

That incident proved the final straw for Headland, who will now devote his time to his family and working with young indigenous people to help them achieve their dreams in life.

“Probably halfway through the year (when I) wasn’t getting anywhere with my knee,” he said when asked when he knew it was time to retire.

“So I sort of started thinking about it around then. (Then) after Friday night’s game, I got another injury in my other knee and that sort of really tipped me over the edge and made my mind clear.

“I had to think about it a bit more to make sure I was doing the right thing (and) I’m pretty happy with the decision.”

Headland is unsure if he will continue playing football at another level – “I’m not really worried about footy at this moment in time” – and says if he didn’t get injured in round four, he wouldn’t have had the time to think about life after football.

“It gave me a bit of time away from footy to reassess other things,” he said. “If that thing didn’t happen, I probably wouldn’t know what I really wanted after footy.

“Now having those three years off, (it) helped me into life after footy.”

Going on his past record with injuries, Headland did not think it was an achievement to break into the team for the Geelong game after his long layoff.

“(It was) just trying to get back and play a game of footy with the boys,” he said. “Obviously it was a big game on the big stage. The way it panned out wasn’t perfect but that’s football, you gotta move on with it.”

Harvey marvelled at Headland’s ability to bring his teammates into the game and “what he could do with the ball that not a lot of other players could do”.

“Whenever he had the ball, you didn’t have to lead to him, he’d kick it to you, that was a fascinating part about Des,” Harvey said.

“Unfortunately through injury, we haven’t seen the best of Des during the (past three years).

“The impact Des played with (and) his aggression towards winning the contest was always important.”

Harvey added Headland’s professionalism had rubbed off on the younger players around the club.

And the youngsters – including Walters – have shown that this season, giving Headland the peace of mind he has left the team’s future in good hands.

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