Stalwarts in defence: Lindsay Gilbee and Ryan Hargrave kept morale up at the Bulldogs. Photo: Getty Images
''Our battered suitcases were piled on the sidewalk again; we had longer ways to go. But no matter, the road is life.'' - Jack Kerouac
IT HAS been a rough couple of months out west, to put it simply. Not a lot to cheer about, you could say. The last real road trip in footy may just have come at the right time for my Dogs and I. Just like an open fireplace, the wide open road is a great place to do some deep thinking around the troubles you find yourself in, and also the dreaming of what might just be around the next corner. No doubt, all of us in the red, white and blue will have the Geelong Cats in the forefront of our minds for Sunday's trip down the highway, but you could safely bet your last penny on all of us sparing more than a few thoughts for a couple of old Dogs.
The game is precious, more precious than a mathematical chance to figure in finals football.
Lindsay Gilbee and Ryan Hargrave - or ''Possum'' and ''Shaggy'' as they are more affectionately known - have decided to call time on their fine careers after playing their hearts out for a combined 409 games. Both have been great players and proud custodians of the jumper, and their departures will be felt by all.
At their best, Possum and Shaggy were elite defenders. When the Dogs last looked like giving the cup a shake, these two were an integral part of the campaign.
What the masses aren't able to see as clearly though, is the role people such as these two play off the field, in the locker room. In the topsy-turvy world of AFL football, with all its ebbs and flows and yoyoing fortunes, it's a valued commodity to have people within your club who can keep it on an even keel.
Shaggy has been a calming influence on his teammates for 13 years. If he was any more laid back he'd be lying down, a great counterpoint to a few of us who can get a bit wound up.
Gilb, on the other hand, has often taken it on himself to keep the mood light. When our world has turned dark, he has revelled in the mischief that engulfs the changeroom from time to time. His cheeky sense of humour is, dare I say it, ''rascalish''.
I'll probably hitch a ride down to the Cattery this week with my other class of '99 teammate, Daniel Giansiracusa. I'm sure we'll fondly reminisce about our two comrades and all that has passed since the day we were plucked out of a barrel like a ticket in a chook raffle, to now, as ageing footballers with grey hair and creaky joints. A fair bit of the reminiscing will be done in relative silence, with just the hum of the road under us as the backing soundtrack.
Plenty of people have come up to me in recent weeks with the cheery observation, ''You must be looking forward to the end of the year!'' I'm sure others have faced similar stuff.
It's an indulgence we must not allow ourselves to think about for too long, because there's always something to play for. There's more than one way to run away from things, especially when times get tough, as they are at the minute.
The game is precious, more precious than a mathematical chance to figure in finals football. Sparks of good play that we've been beginning to see on the field in the last couple of weeks could become a raging inferno next year. There's also the simple logic of acknowledging just how bloody special it is to play league football, especially for a club as proud as the Bulldogs.
The curtain has fallen on two of our sons, just as it will fall on all of us at some point. Can't let a minute go to waste.