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Football's real life soap opera

Chris Judd reflects on a career spent in the AFL spotlight.

Chris Judd can see his storied past - and his role in what he calls football's ''soap opera'' - more clearly than his post-football future. In the present, he's realistic about his own capabilities, yet optimistic about what Carlton can achieve.

He understands that, as a footballer about to play his 250th game, his body doesn't permit him to perform the pyrotechnics his younger self did. Not as often, anyway.

''That's one frustration of football,'' he said of the ageing process. ''And without being melodramatic - and this is very melodramatic - but it [football] sort of mimics your life. You're getting ready to die in the latter parts of your footy career, you're unable to do things you would like to be able to do and I guess you have to choose the way you want to go out.

''You just enjoy the things you can do and whilst I haven't had the best season (average 23 disposals), I still feel like I can contribute to the footy club.''

Judd wants to ''go out'' in a successful team. He's achieved a litany of individual honours, including a pair of Brownlows, a Norm Smith and five best and fairests at two clubs. He's hoisted the cup as premiership captain at the Eagles, in his first, initially reluctant, stint as a captain. But he hasn't seen much success, in relative terms, at Carlton.

''Look, the only reason I'm playing at this age is because there's a potential for success,'' Judd said, noting that while Carlton wasn't ''up with the top four right now'', it was travelling ''OK'' and footy fortunes could shift upwards quickly.


He recalled the Eagles smashing Sydney by eight goals in round eight of 2005. ''That's when Demetriou came out and said they were playing a boring brand.''

Judd's thoughts then were, ''[The Swans] really need to rebuild here, they're in some trouble. Fast forward 16 weeks and they've won the flag.''

Demetriou and the Ugly Swans was a fairytale, not a soap opera.

Judd, clearly, holds some hope that the Blues can morph into a contender quickly, under the wand of Mick Malthouse, in the remains of his career.

He's contracted for next year and the question of how long he intends to play is answered like a simple piece of maths: ''The club would have to want you to play on, you'd have to want to play on and physically and mentally you'd have to be able to play on. If all of those four things occur, I'll play on. If one of those four isn't occurring, then I won't.''

Judd has a Leigh Matthews-like gift for clear and plain thinking about the game and the theatre surrounding it. Not yet 30, but with the speedometer showing 249 games, he describes the veteran's physical decline as ''not linear''.

Because we think of footballers' bodies as machines, ''you're either fixed or you're broken.''

He sees an upside to his twilight. ''I won't be getting tagged as tightly as I have in the past.'' Asked to guess the percentage of games he'd been tagged in, the former Weagles wunderkind had a pithy response: ''Most.'' Judd also has long given the impression, not of a lack of interest in the AFL, but that he wasn't a full-bore footyholic who would go on to coach and, as he put it, ''scream at Auskick'' in later life.

Judd, now a family man, confirms that he isn't likely to coach when he retires. ''I don't think I'll work in football full-time.''

His future plan, at this stage, ''will involve trying to buy or start a small business that is unrelated to footy'' but isn't certain whether that's his true calling.

He notes that he's already taken a tentative step in that direction, having jointly set up ''Jaggad'', a compression bike/triathlon gear company with his close mate and ex-Hawk Steven Greene, Carlton board member Ryan Trainor and ex-AFL commissioner and Just Jeans founder Craig Kimberley.

That entree to serious business connections is one of the advantages that have been conferred upon Judd. When another Carlton board figure - the late Richard Pratt - employed him as ambassador at Visy, outside of the salary cap, he was thrust into the spotlight in a manner he didn't enjoy.

Judd said the scrutiny surrounding his Visy deal was ''an easy story to write'' even though he's one of ''70 players with third party deals and that wasn't even the biggest of them''.

''You need to see footy for what it is,'' he said, placing the Visy controversy into the overall mosaic. ''It's a bit of a soap opera … so the Brownlow's a sort of romance part of it, you get a tragedy outside an MRI clinic when a player's done his knee.''

Judd has seen fascinating soapie episodes up close, of his own making and those swirling around others such as Ben Cousins.

The 'chicken wing' tackle on Leigh Adams - who missed games as a consequence - last year was one in which, he said, he became the villain for the week.

''In the end, it turned into an ugly incident.'' He said had deserved suspension ethically. ''Morally, I deserved to be suspended but what rule did I break? What do you think?''

He says it's impossible to explain ''what goes through a player's head on the field''. That leads us to Ben Cousins. Judd said he had been thinking about his time at the Eagles - and of Brett Ratten, his old coach, whose involvement with Hawthorn brought him to mind.

Judd's observation of Cousins is a homily about sport: ''The qualities we admire in players on the field are things we criticise them for off the ground. Cuz was pretty intense and just so driven in everything he did. On the field that was great. On the training track it was great. Off the field at times, it wasn't great. We see that in a lot of players.''

Judd has twice been given club captaincy - the first time from a Cousins who'd been stripped of it, the second to a situation vacant at Carlton - when he didn't really want it. He's ''proud'' and pleased he accepted leadership, both times, today.

Of the man who made him captain the second time, he said: ''I had a good relationship with Ratts … when you're captain of the club and the coach gets sacked, you feel a bit more responsible for that than anyone else.''

Ratten's successor has changed plenty.

''Needless to say, Mick's had a huge impact on our footy club,'' Judd said.

''He knows what it takes for footy clubs to succeed but … he doesn't just stick to formulas that he used in the past.''

Judd, like Malthouse, is in the hopeful dusk of his career. He can't rely on yesterday's ways either.