Drew Petrie will never be retrospectively viewed as one of the best, and most dynamic, key forwards of this generation.
The former North Melbourne veteran turned-Eagle has never had the athletic pedigree of Lance Franklin, nor the league-wide admiration and sheer running capacity of Nick Riewoldt, yet Petrie is simply great in his own right.
And now, at 34, Petrie has again been proof that the disposition of veterans in the AFL is changing for the better.
AFL is a code tied to tradition. There’s a reason fans don’t want to see change to the Grand Final timeslot, and there’s a reason players want to retire as one-club players.
But only a handful of players, great players, have been able to bow out the way they want to. Petrie hasn’t, but in the process, has illustrated the impact veterans can have when their careers seem over.
West Coast didn’t win on Saturday on the road against Gold Coast, but only just.
If not for a slow transition of the ball from defence, ultimately shaving too much time off the clock before Tom Lynch’s game-winning contested mark, the Eagles just may have.
And had that happened, much of the Eagle’s escape would have been in part due to Petrie’s second-half heroics.
His stat line doesn’t read all that spectacularly – 12 disposals, eight marks; two contested, 21 hit-outs and a goal – but what was visible, was his covet to influence the game.
Despite spending half of the game in the ruck, where he had more hit-outs than Nathan Vardy, down forward, Petrie bettered Jack Darling, who had 8 disposals and failed to hit the scoreboard.
A lot of the reason why the Eagles lost the game, where they had every right to win given the finals implications it carried, was because of the lack of urgency among the players.
Petrie, who has played just three games this season since being elevated from the rookie list, wasn’t one of them.
With the game in the balance during the second half, Petrie was unparalleled in the air, clunking everything and everything. In a side without spearhead Josh Kennedy, Petrie stood tall.
After being discarded by North Melbourne as part of their veteran recycling scheme last year, the Eagles threw Petrie a lifeline. He deserved to be on an AFL roster, and Saturday’s performance suggested why.
Teams have shown an increasing tendency to delist and trade veterans to aid the transition into another premiership calibre team. The Kangaroos did it, and so did Geelong when they cut ties with Paul Chapman, Steve Johnson and James Kelly – despite over hundreds of games of experience at the club.
Much of these list management decisions fall against the AFL’s traditionalist principles – these players, unless they call time on their careers whilst still capable of playing at the elite level, won’t retire as one-club players.
Yet players like Petrie, who do play on, continue to play vital roles in their team’s success; often without the plaudits they deserve.
History doesn’t look back fondly on those veterans who finish their careers at different clubs. For every Brian Lake success story, there is a Nick Malceski on which is not
The recruitment of veterans is often criticised when a team under-performs, as as the case with Collingwood and Gold Coast. The Eagles are too struggling, yet any criticism of Petrie would simply be unjust.
Adam Cooney, a man who knows plenty about playing at a second club, featured on SEN radio on Sunday morning and claimed Petrie was almost the match winner.
Petrie’s statistics in his year at West Coast aren’t enticing. If his performances continue across the remainder of the season, 2017 will be Petrie worst season in many key statistical areas since 2010 where foot injuries hampered him to just two games.
Yet Petrie shows heart when many Eagles don’t. He shows a willingness to want to change a game and with his career just months or years from expiration, he is just enjoying football.
History won’t remember that sound bite of Cooney’s praise, nor will it likely remember Petrie’s impact in his time at the Eagles.
It will remember Petrie as one of the best forward in North Melbourne history, but we ought to acknowledge his time at the Eagles too, which just three games in, has already ticked plenty of boxes.