'He just makes the right decisions ... All the time.' Photo: Getty Images
Retiring from football is rarely the stuff of fairytales and deciding when to walk away is probably the hardest decision a player will make. After all, how many blokes do you know who’ve actually wanted to give the game away?
Chris Judd is going through that process right now. While it can be truly gut-wrenching, I don’t know many footballers who are better equipped than Judd to deal with the anxiety.
You see, Juddy is different. Not in a bad way, but in a kind of old-head-philosophical-way. Where most guys who make it to the top absolutely live for the game, Judd’s take on football is that it’s just one part of his life, That there’s more out there. Possibly much more. It’s plain to see that he loves our great game, but when he does decide to give it up, I don’t think there will be second thoughts.
Judd has been the AFL’s commonsense guy from the start and it’s been that approach that has enabled him to prosper like few others. He has been the quintessential professional from day one, but clearly has balance in his life away from football.
When he arrived at West Coast, I likened him to being the new and improved Robert Harvey.
The Saints great was an absolute workhorse of the `90s whose fierce desire to compete saw him burn opponents into the ground week-in, week-out.
Judd was like that from the very start of his career. He was incredibly strong through his core, had an amazing work ethic, poise and vision, yet possessed the added advantage of speed. He was genuinely quick. It made for a truly fearsome beast.
To go straight into the Eagles team and have an instant impact spoke volumes of Judd in his early years. Alongside Dean Cox, Ben Cousins and Daniel Kerr, he made up one of the greatest midfield brigades the game has seen. Every one of those players will be future Hall of Famers, but Judd was the star who shone the brightest among those champions.
He may not have got as much of the ball as Cousins and Kerr, but he had a profound impact with every single one of his possessions. He was – and remains – a genuine match winner. He’s one of those guys who stands up when it counts. He can will himself to a contest, grab the ball from a stoppage and burst away. His statistics from his Brownlow-winning years of 2004 and 2010 probably say it all.
In `04, he averaged 21.8 disposals per game, while in 2010 he racked up a career-high 27 disposals per game. They’re not massive numbers; most of today’s midfielders would consider less than 35 possessions a quiet game. It just goes to show how influential Judd is with the ball. He just makes the right decisions. Smart ones. All the time.
So when should he hang up the boots? Was Mick Malthouse right when he suggested champions should go out with a little left in the tank or has Judd’s recent form demanded he go around for another year?
Only Judd knows the answer and he might deliver that answer as nonchalantly as he’s addressed the burning issues throughout his career. By that, I mean don’t hold your breath.
While Lenny Hayes and Dean Cox opted to announce their retirements before year’s end, it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if Judd holds off on his decision until Carlton’s season is over.
It’s just the way he seems to go about things. He’s analytical. He takes the emotion out. ‘‘Play this week. Recover. Play the following week. Recover. Help team win. Help teammates grow. Season over. Now, what next? How is the body? How is the form? Where is the club at? What else could I be doing? Time to retire.’’
While Judd may be brushing off questions about his future for now, I’d strongly encourage anyone who loves footy to get to as many of Carlton’s remaining matches this season. It may be the last chance you’ll get to see the superstar at work.
Judd may not be the player he was, but he remains one of the game’s best. His 20-25 possessions are easily as valuable as 35-40 possessions for other players.
His move to Carlton has not resulted in another premiership, but he’ll leave the Blues in far better shape than when he arrived.
He has had a huge impact on the players around him. He’s not one to rant, but when he speaks, people listen. He has an immense presence. His leadership – particularly through example – is why players like Marc Murphy have been able to take their games to new levels.
And I honestly can’t remember Judd ever having a flat spot in his career. Sure, there have been injuries, but he’s been able to bounce back from every single one and have an immediate impact. Just another example of why he’s been so good.
Fairytale ending or not, Judd’s legacy in the game is assured.