Who's hanging up the boots? Your club's retiring players

BRISBANE ruck Jessy Keeffe has retired to focus on her health and wellbeing.

The 24-year-old played 11 games for Brisbane after joining the club via pick No.48 in the 2017 NAB AFLW Draft from Yeronga South Brisbane.

Keeffe had a breakout 2020 season, playing all seven games, but did not add to that tally this year as NAB AFLW Rising Star nominee Tahlia Hickie staked her claim on the ruck role.

Football runs in the Keeffe family, with older brother Lachie a key defender at GWS.

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"This has easily been the hardest decision I have ever had to make and has not been made lightly," Keeffe said.

"Unfortunately, the physical and mental demands of football that I used to embody and thrive off have become the exact things that have negatively affected my general well-being and therefore a lot of aspects of my life outside of football.

"I would like to say that the support from the club and all the girls has made me feel incredibly lucky to be a part of something so special."

Keeffe is the third Lion to announce her retirement this year, following on from the Grand Final day announcements of captain Emma Zielke and veteran forward Lauren Arnell.

AFLW GF Highlights: Adelaide v Brisbane

06:37 Apr 17. 2021. 4:10 PM

The Crows and Lions clash in the 2021 NAB AFLW Grand Final


Lauren Arnell, Brisbane

A popular player across the competition, Arnell started her AFLW career as a priority selection for Carlton in 2017 from VFLW side Darebin, captaining the side that season.

She was told to look elsewhere after the 2018 season, and reignited her career with Brisbane, where she took on an unofficial mentoring/leadership role as the club underwent an expansion period-induced rebuild.

The midfielder-turned-forward retires with 36 AFLW games to her name (11 at Carlton and 25 at Brisbane) and polled four best and fairest votes this season as she took her game to a new level.

The 34-year-old Arnell, also a respected football commentator, will remain in the game through her coaching work with the Lions' Academy and in her role as a PE teacher at Brisbane South State Secondary.

Retiring Lions Lauren Arnell and Emma Zielke are chaired off after the Grand Final win. Picture: Getty Images

Emma Zielke, Brisbane

A torn hamstring aside, Zielke retires on the highest of highs, having captained her side to its first AFLW premiership.

The 33-year-old skippered Brisbane in four of five seasons, having joined the club as a priority selection ahead of its inaugural season from QAFLW club Coorparoo.

The courageous Zielke played every possible game for Brisbane over her five seasons (41 matches), primarily in the midfield but shifted to defence in the latter part of her career.

She had the knack of placing herself exactly where she was needed when games were in the balance, and was a strong overhead mark who wasn't afraid to back into packs.

'If we win, I'm retiring': Zielke's fairytale finish

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Brisbane premiership skipper Emma Zielke speaks about her Grand Final injury and her decision to retire

Sharni Norder, Collingwood

Collingwood ruck Norder (nee Layton) called time on an 18-year elite sporting career.

A former skipper of the Australian Diamonds netball team, Norder crossed to the AFLW as a rookie ahead of the 2019 season, starting the sport from scratch.

Loved by her teammates for her exuberant energy and dedication to developing her skills, Norder was named All-Australian ruck in 2020.

The 33-year-old played 23 of a possible 25 games across three AFLW seasons, and retires in order to build her life outside of professional sport, having already had a 15-year international netball career before the switch.

Leah Mascall, Fremantle

The 30-year-old tore her ACL in December 2020, sitting out the 2021 season, and finishes with 19 AFLW games to her name.

A former hockey player, Mascall was selected with pick No.44 in the 2017 NAB AFLW Draft from WAWFL club Coastal Titans (now Subiaco).

Mascall was a fierce opponent and noted shut-down defender, making life incredibly difficult for forwards.

It's safe to say she has a few interesting plans ahead.

"In the near future, I want to have a go at racing motorbikes … I might be out there this year depending on how things go," Mascall told Fremantle's website.

"I’m a hockey player by trade so potentially a bit of that and I’ve done triathlons before."

Aasta O'Connor, Geelong

Inaugural Cat and premiership Bulldog Aasta O'Connor retired after 32 games.

She was originally selected with pick No.12 by the Western Bulldogs in the inaugural NAB AFLW Draft in 2016.

The ruck played the 2017 and 2018 seasons at the Dogs, winning the Grand Final in her second year, before joining Geelong for the club's first AFLW season.

A respected coach, O'Connor also ran the NAB AFLW Academy until last year.

Sally Riley, Gold Coast

A much-loved inaugural Sun and premiership Crow, Riley played 25 AFLW games across five seasons at the top level. 

The 30-year-old was a true utility, capable of lining up across all three lines and plugging gaps where needed.

Drafted with pick No.39 in 2016 as one of Adelaide's Darwin-based players (having moved from Victoria for work), Riley played 14 games for the Crows over three seasons – including the 2017 flag – before moving to the Suns, where she added a further nine games.

A strong leader, Riley was a vice-captain at Adelaide for two seasons and was in the Suns' leadership group across her two years.

Sun Sally Riley and Cat Aasta O'Connor are chaired off Metricon Stadium. Picture: Matt Roberts, AFL Photos

Sam Virgo, Gold Coast

Gold Coast skipper Virgo, 34, retires as one of the pioneers of women's footy in Queensland.

An All-Australian rebound defender at her very best in 2017, Virgo played 15 games for Brisbane between 2017 and 2019, missing the 2018 season with a torn ACL.

She re-joined mentor David Lake at the Suns ahead of the club's inaugural season, playing 14 games, and was often employed up forward to assist her inexperienced teammates.

Virgo has also been heavily involved in development coaching at state under-18 level.

Niamh McEvoy, Melbourne

The Irishwoman played eight games for the Dees across two seasons, primarily up forward, but struggled to hold her spot consistently this year.

McEvoy troubled sides with her speed, agility and attack on the footy, and combined her AFLW with her decorated Gaelic football career with Dublin.

"The competitiveness, professionalism, and experience Niamh brought across from her highly successful Gaelic football career back in Ireland has benefitted our group enormously over the last two seasons," Melbourne's AFLW footy boss Daniel McPherson said.

"We should never underestimate what players like Niamh sacrifice when they travel out to Australia to compete in our AFLW competition."

Dees' Dublin duo combine

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Dublin teammates Sinead Goldrick and Niahm McEvoy combine to goal for Melbourne

Shae Sloane, Melbourne

Beset by serious knee injuries, the former Australian volleyball captain played just one top-level game, in round one, 2019.

Sloane, a key defender, ruptured her right ACL twice before tearing her left ACL earlier this year on the eve of her return to footy.

The club is hoping to retain Sloane in some sort of coaching/off-field capacity, having already spent most of her time on the sidelines in a similar role.

Selena Karlson, St Kilda

The 180cm key defender played three games for the Western Bulldogs in 2019, before moving to St Kilda ahead of the club's inaugural season.

Karlson battled injuries in her two years at the Saints, most recently an Achilles complaint, and decided to call time at just 22.