There are plenty of new realities for AFL footballers to deal with and among them is that milestone games aren’t what they used to be.
So for Grant Birchall and Andrew Gaff, Saturday night’s game at the Gabba sadly won’t be accompanied by the usual bells and whistles.
Birchall, who made his long-awaited debut game for the Brisbane Lions last weekend, will be playing his 250th game, while West Coast wingman Andrew Gaff will be playing his 200th game.
It has been a strange few years for Birchall, who for so long was an important and durable member of Hawthorn’s back six.
After 16 games in his debut season in 2006, his next 10 seasons in the brown and gold featured just one season – 2013 – in which he missed more than three games. The hard-running and creative half-back was a member of the 2008 and 2013-15 premiership teams and Hawk insiders would tell you that he was one of the first players picked every week.
But a fractured jaw early in 2017 was the start of a wretched run for Birchall and a series of leg injuries kept him to just eight games over the next three years with the Hawks and at the end of last season he moved to the Lions seeking a fresh start.
After missing the season-opener against his former club because of a tight hamstring, the 32-year-old played last week against Fremantle, with 14 disposals across half-back and appeared not to have skipped a beat despite his prolonged absence from the game.
Gaff was his usual prolific self for the Eagles against Gold Coast last Saturday, racking up 29 touches on the wing, on what was an unusually dirty night for the club, losing by 44 points.
It was through no fault of Gaff that the Eagles went down. He has been a superb player for the club since debuting in the opening round of 2011. He won the 2015 best and fairest, came third in 2018 and was named in the All-Australian team in both those seasons.
He played well last season, particularly with a point to prove after his eight-match suspension late in 2018 that cost him a place in West Coast’s premiership team.
Player and club would dearly like to make amends and he appears set to be an Eagle for life, having resisted several overtures to return to Victoria.
He signed a long-term contract extension at the end of 2018 and while it contains a clause that allows him to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season, he has given no indication he will activate it.