GEMBROOK’s own Michael Firrito will tomorrow become just the 10th person in the long and storied history of the North Melbourne Football Club to play 250 AFL/VFL games.
The Firrito name is one that’s synonymous with the Gembrook and Cockatoo football community, with the man affectionately known as ‘Spud’ coming up through the Brookers’ junior ranks.
Now 31, Firrito was a Rising Star nominee in 2003 and went on to represent Australia in the 2008 International Rules series.
He captained the Eastern Ranges in 2001, winning their best-and-fairest the same season. But he was overlooked by every AFL club in the draft.
He refused to give up on his dream, though, and played with Box Hill in the VFL in 2002 – winning the Fothergill/Round Medal as the most promising player in the competition that year.
North Melbourne saw enough, and drafted him at number 10 in the rookie draft at the end of the year.
And this story of persistence isn’t over yet – not by a long shot.
Having had to battle his way into the AFL, he’s determined to keep playing at the highest level while he still can.
“When I first started off the rookie list late in 2002, if you have had told me that (I’d reach 250 games), I wouldn’t have believed you,” the versatile hard-bodied defender said in the lead-up to tomorrow’s game of the round against the Western Bulldogs.
“It’s a great achievement and I’m sure I’ll look back on it when I’ve finished and be really proud.”
But ‘Spud’ admits thoughts of retirement did enter his mind in recent years, after battling to stay on top of his game physically.
“I had some issues with my body and retirement was one of the things that entered my mind, but since then it’s been the most exciting and enjoyable part of my career,” he said.
“My form has been consistent and we’ve been in finals series. We’ve got a bit of work ahead of us, but it’s a really exciting time.”
Firrito said those thoughts of retirement were “pretty serious”, admitting “It was touch-and-go there for a while. I took the last spot on the list – I probably have for the past couple of years.”
But from his footy life staring him in the face, Firrito will play a key role in North Melbourne’s defence until at least the end of the season – whenever that may be. The Kangaroos have won seven on the trot and are one of the form sides in the competition.
Firrito has spoken with coach Brad Scott and North Melbourne’s list manager Cameron Joyce about where his future lies beyond 2015, adding: “I’m comfortable where it’s all at – the body is feeling really good and the mind is good, which is just as important, so we’ll keep talking and make the best decision for everybody.
“I think I can still bring something to the table and I’m still feeling like I want to improve and do all those things. I do want to go on but we’ll just see and make the right decision.”
But first thing’s first – taking on the Bulldogs this week – a side the red-hot Kangaroos could yet face in this year’s finals.
“The Bulldogs have had a fantastic year and they’ve got quality on every line so while we know that’s a possibility, I don’t think that’s changing anything in our preparation,” he said.
“They’re a high-scoring side and they play a hard, fast, exciting brand of footy. It’s been great for all supporters to watch – myself included. That’s going to be a tough contest, that’s for sure.
“Jake Stringer, (Stewart) Crameri, Tory Dickson, and (Luke) Dahlhaus are tough to match up on and because they move the ball so quickly they really get a look so we’ve done a bit of work (on them).”
The opening bounce of the game tomorrow at Etihad Stadium is at 4.35pm.
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