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Essendon recruit Mark Jamar joins the ranks of football's reborn big boys

When he was delisted by Melbourne last November, Mark Jamar was content with his lot and looking forward to the next phase – a career in construction, starting a family, a less demanding kick of footy with St Kevin's in the amateurs.

"I decided recently that I wasn't going to pursue the AFL," he said at the time.

But like so many ruckmen before him, Jamar would soon discover that the AFL was not ready to stop pursuing him.

His signing on Tuesday, as the seventh of Essendon's replacements for their banned dozen, formalised a no-brainer for the Bombers – Tom Bellchambers' suspension left ruck stocks desperately thin, while the pool of promising big men not already on AFL lists is similarly shallow.

It is hard to go past a 32-year-old All-Australian with 14 seasons and 155 games behind him.

"The depth just isn't there, and you can't risk kids," one close watcher of the game's giants observed. "He can still win hitouts, still make contests around the ground. It's no surprise at all they've gone with him."


To his mild chagrin, Daniel Harford suspected St Kevin's star recruit would not be making his amateur debut in 2016 as soon as the Court of Arbitration for Sport verdict was released on January 12.

Jamar had been winning friends and admirers at pre-season training with SKOBs, and was excited about a new job with Geotech in Port Melbourne and the birth of his and wife Dulce's first child, now just weeks away.

"He's been unbelievable with us – we're really disappointed to lose him from a bloke point of view, but we're pretty confident he'll be back with us at some stage," said Harford, who coached St Kevin's for four years before a switch to the drive shift at SEN forced a reduced but still active role with the club.

"Guys who are 32 and have done all he's done in footy, sometimes you can expect them to be a little bit blase and cruise through, but he threw himself right into the footy club and everyone involved at all levels. He was fantastic, the boys will miss him."

This speaks to Jamar's quality as a person, already apparent at Tullamarine in the short time since he took a part-time ruck coaching role with the Bombers in the week after the CAS decision.

While Brisbane staffers chided serial retirer Ben Hudson that he would surely be getting a call, Jamar was the standout candidate to bolster ruck stocks thinned to ex-Lion Matthew Leuenberger, Shaun McKernan and rookie Gach Nyuon.

"I think the opportunity to play footy again at the highest level with a great bunch of people who I've got to know over the last month – that really excited me and I'm delighted to be on board," Jamar said on Tuesday.

A pre-Christmas stint in the NTFL with Southern Districts alongside former Melbourne teammates had stoked competitive flames smothered by a last season in red and blue that produced just five games. Tellingly, he was a wanted footballer again.

"There's an old adage that says you're a long time retired," said Paul Salmon, the Essendon and Hawthorn legend who was coaxed out of retirement for a final season with the Bombers after spending 2001 building a life after football.

"One more year of my life, it's not going to kill me."

Salmon had "no desire or intention to play again" after finishing as a Hawk in 2000, and had even started weaning himself off the language of the professional athlete. "I kept training, but my wife used to drill into me that I wasn't training any more, I was exercising."

He took "considerable convincing" by Kevin Sheedy to come back, and despite the extraordinary circumstances at play here, he sees similarities in what the Bombers will ask of Jamar. 

"They'll need players who can provide a level of stability, have a personality type that's engaging, can help the young blokes and maintain the focus and direction of the club," Salmon said. Not to mention someone who can absorb physical punishment, work the ground efficiently and give young onballers belief they can get the ball in their hands at stoppages."

Another observer notes Leuenberger – whose 108 games have taken nine years – is not a 22-game prospect and McKernan, game as he was last season, is a better forward than ruckman.

Harford wonders if the abolition of the sub will further help Jamar's cause, as his experience undoubtedly will.

"It's such a crafty position, the ruck," the former Hawk and Blue said. "You don't learn that through three or four years, you need to hone that over eight, nine, 10. They probably don't get a lot of love from the public, but it's such a big role in footy these days. That's why they're so attractive. Good luck to him."