Champion ruckman Orren Stephenson has played his last VFL game with the North Ballarat Roosters.
He retires with four VFL premierships – three with the Roosters and one with Geelong - and a series of individual honours in the state league, including VFL life membership.
While his VFL career is over, the 34-year-old plans to play on, with a return to Redan in the Ballarat Football League a real possibility.
Stephenson told The Courier at the formal announcement on Thursday of his retirement as a player and assistant coach from the Roosters that Redan president Damian Linton had already spoken to him about the possibility of resuming his career with the Lions.
Stephenson’s family also has ties with CHFL club Creswick, which is coached by a Redan premiership teammate Ryan Knowles.
While non-committal where he might extend his playing career, Stephenson said despite injuries keeping him on the sidelines so far this season he was physically in good shape.
Stephenson said it had been a tough decision to say goodbye to the Roosters, where he started out began in 2005.
He said he would miss many people, including those who would be lifelong friends, but the time had come.
Stephenson said the stresses caused by the off-field upheaval at the Roosters since late last year had been a factor in his decision.
“It’s taken a toll. These events have been at the forefront of my mind.”
He said while he had started the year with a view to filling a role, he needed a clean break.
Stephenson said being part of one of the most successful periods for any club in VFL history had been “fantastic”.
“I’ve able to achieve a lot.”
He played in North Ballarat’s three consecutive premierships under coach Gerard FitzGerald in 2008, 2009 and 2010.
Stephenson joined the Roosters in 2005 after a dream start to what would become an Australian rules odyssey at Redan in the Ballarat Football League.
Coming from a rugby league background in the Riverina, the then raw ruckman landed well and truly on his feet – playing in a Redan premiership in his first season in 2002 and another two years later.
That was enough to convince him to have a second try-out with the Roosters. He did enough to convince coach Gavin Crosisca to take him on board, developing him alongside former Carlton and North Melbourne big man Mark Porter.
Stephenson almost returned to Redan at the end of that year after struggling for opportunities in the seniors.
Fortunately he was convinced to stay – a decision he is thankful he made.
He not only went on to a highly decorated VFL career with three premierships and a string of other honours including life membership, but also three years living the AFL dream with Geelong (2012) and Richmond (2013-14).
He still remembers the night Geelong selected him with pick 78 in 2011 national draft at age of 29 – making him the oldest first-time draftee in AFL draft history.
Stephenson said while he knew of Geelong’s intention to draft him, few others did.