AFL 3 years ago

Ten near impossible returns from injury

  • Ten near impossible returns from injury

In light of not many football stories going around at the moment, someone like me is going a little crazy without anything to talk about. So I've gone back and had a look at some of the returns from injury, that no one thought possible.

Some players have already unfortunately retired, but a number of them continued to defy the odds and are still playing in the AFL today.


The former Saints midfielder was a part of the St.Kilda team that reached the 1997 Grand Final, but unfortunately for he and his team-mates, they fell short thanks to a Darren Jarman masterclass. However, the next three seasons for Cripps, turned out to be a tumultuous period.

In 1998, Cripps suffered a hamstring injury in the early parts of the season, with scans revealing that he had torn his hamstring off the bone and would miss an extensive amount of time out of the game. No one would have thought that extensive period would be the better part of two and a half years. Cripps went out with that hamstring injury in Round 7 of 1998 and did not return until Round 15 of 2001, in which was Malcolm Blight's final game as St Kilda coach. 

The game may not have turned out as well as Cripps and his team-mates would have liked, however Cripps managed to kick a goal with his first kick back in what was a horror run of setbacks. He was eventually delisted at the end of 2002 and is now with Port Adelaide as their list manager.

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Garry Lyon's broken leg has been well publicised in recent years due to his anchoring role on Channel Nine's The Footy Show, but there's no mistake that this was one of the more horrific injuries that the AFL has seen. Lyon suffered a compound fracture of his leg against the Western Bulldogs, then known as Footscray, in Round 22 of 1987. 

Amazingly, Lyon would be back for round one the following season and the career he panned out for himself was extraordinary. Given such the short turn-around in his return from the injury, Lyon went on to be an integral member of the Melbourne side that went down to Hawthorn in the Grand Final of 1988. 

His career unfortunately came to an end with consistent back injuries that he struggled with in the latter part of his career.

*Unfortunately, due to time restrictions on writing this article, this was the only video I could find to add. Hey, I'd react like that too if I'm being honest.


Melbourne's David Schwarz for today's generation, who may not remember that much of him, was one player that you would pay your money, just to go and watch him. Schwarz, better known around the capper as "The Ox" was on the cusp of something special as a footballer, but three knee reconstructions halted that progress, and ultimately, halted his career.

While he still showed some of those marvellous moves when he returned eventually in 1998, he was never the same. He went on to play in the Grand Final in 2000 against the Bombers, and would eventually retire just two seasons later.

Despite never being the same, the courage to return from three knee reconstructions, and not to mention his off-field battles as well, it's was a true testament to his courage to return.


One of the recent ones, Hawthorn ruckman Max Bailey faced one of the toughest tests that most ruckmen fear. That was to recover from a knee reconstruction at a young age. No one wants to go through a knee reconstruction, but for a big man like Bailey, most AFL footballers will tell you it's incredibly tough to return. 

Unfortunately for Bailey, he had to endure three frightening knee reconstructions. Bailey ruptured his first ACL in 2006 and missed close to three years out of the game as he recovered. He managed to get back in 2009, only for his second game in the AFL to rupture it again against the Bombers. 

Another 18 months out of the game and well, a third time, and you would have thought retirement would have gone through his head. But it was all worth it as he played most games in 2013, and bowed out a premiership player, having played just 43 games over eight seasons.


This, along with Garry Lyon's injury, are the worst I've seen on a football field. I'll never forget where I was when I saw Nathan Brown's leg get caught under Melbourne's Matthew Whelan on a Friday night. 

Brown took a shot at goal early in the fourth quarter, only for Whelan to attempt to smother the ball. Brown unfortunately slipped while being tackled by Melbourne's Brent Moloney when Whelan went to dive across Brown to smother the ball, only to smother Brown's leg. 

The end result was sickening as you can see from the video below. Brown managed to return the following year in round one, but there's no doubt that Brown has his struggles before retiring in 2009.


Essendon champion James Hird has been in the headlines for all the wrong reasons lately, but he made plenty of good noise when he was playing for the Bombers in the late 90's to early 2000's. Unfortunately for Hird, he suffered a number of different injuries after winning the Brownlow Medal in 1996.

However, leading into the 1999 season, Hird was finally fit and ready to go. Well so he thought, when he was unfortunately forced from the field with a foot injury, that turned out to be the dreaded fracture of the navicular bone. Hird would return in round one of the famous 2000 season where he would lead the club to their first premiership in seven seasons. 

Unfortunately for Hird, in 2002 he would suffer an horrific facial injury due to friendly fire and best friend Mark McVeigh, which would require Hird to have a number of plates inserted into his face. He returned with special head wear to play on until 2007.


Daniel Menzel's return against Collingwood late in the season was something every football fan wanted to see, including Collingwood fans. Menzel suffered his first ACL injury in the Qualifying Final of 2011 against Hawthorn where he was on the half forward flank, attempting to tackle, when his knee buckled and scans would reveal that he would miss the next 12 months. 

Everything went to plan with the first knee reconstruction and Menzel got back to playing when the Cats hoped he would, only for the young forward to rupture his other ACL in his first game back in the VFL. 

Menzel was on the road to recovery from his second knee reconstruction when he felt a pinch in his knee when doing some drills. As innocuous as it was, even Menzel wasn't ready for what came next. That "little pinch" was another rupture and another reconstruction for Menzel to endure.

Menzel again did everything that he needed to do, to chase his dream and that was to get the knee right and fit to play AFL football again. He returned through the VFL and got through his first VFL game against Sandringham. The intentions for Menzel were to play three quarters against the Zebras and then aim for a full four-quarter performance against Box Hill the following week. 

The news we all dreaded came again when Menzel attempted to tackle then Hawk Kyle Cheney, only to slip and rupture his ACL for the fourth time. Many thought that his career was done, but the remarkable effort he showed to strive for his dream finally paid off when he ran out against Collingwood in Round 22 and kicked four goals and having more than 20 disposals in the team's loss.


Most AFL injuries are not life and death situations, but what happened to Tom Lonergan, in just his seventh game of AFL football was something that doesn't happen all that often, thankfully.

Lonergan, as he has been known to do over his career went back with the flight of the ball, only to be collected with a knee in the back, which led to a lacerated kidney.

Lonergan had to have the kidney removed due to life-threatening complications and you would have thought that he was near close to no chance of returning to the elite level.

However, he returned later that year, (can you believe that!) and was a part of the team that played in the VFL Grand Final that year, where he was named best on ground.

Lonergan went on to play in 2008 in the seniors and was a part of the team that played off in the 2008 Grand Final, only to fall short to Hawthorn. He had to wait until 2011 after missing out the 2009 Grand Final to get that precious premiership medallion, but it was a true inspiration to see him return after such a horrific injury.


Adam Ramanauskas was one of Essendon's brightest young stars in the early 2000's in what was the golden period for the Bombers, where one premiership seems to have had the Bombers underachieving. 

Ramanauskas finished second in the then named Norwich Rising Star to Fremantle young midfielder Paul Hasleby in 1999, but he went on to have a stellar 2000 season where he was lucky enough to be a part of the 2000 premiership.

Now, none of us expect to brought down with the dreaded "C word," and most of us are naive and think that it'll never happen to our heroes on the football field because of their super fitness. However, not the case for Adam Ramanauskas who was diagnosed with cancer in 2003.

He recovered quite quickly and was cleared of cancer in the middle of 2003 and return to play out the rest of the season, however in 2006, Essendon sought out to see a specialist where it was found that the cancer had returned in Ramanauskas' body. 

Essendon wanted to keep Ramanauskas at the club and give him as much support as possible, so they delisted him and put him on the rookie list, allowing him to focus on his recovery. 

Thankfully, Ramanauskas was cleared of cancer yet again in 2007 and he was elevated to the senior list and returned to play his first AFL game in almost two seasons when he faced Geelong at Etihad Stadium. He would then retire at the end of the 2008 season and would take on a part-time role at the club to help fast-track the development of the younger players.


You just can't talk about this story without feeling emotional about the way Jason McCartney came back to the AFL. So many people lost their lives in the Bali Bombings in 2002 and McCartney was fortunately for him, one of the lucky ones to walk away alive, but not without severe burns.

McCartney married his lovely wife Nerissa just 63 days after the bombings and was determined to get back to the Kangaroos in the AFL, but knew the extensive amount of rehabilitation that needed to be done for that to happen.

McCartney spent time with three clubs, but was mostly known for his time at the Kangaroos.

McCartney was named for the Round 11 clash against the Richmond in what I still consider one of the best Friday night games I have ever seen. He managed just the three disposals, however those three disposals impacted the game in more ways than you can imagine as he kicked a goal, a behind and set up the match-winning goal for North Melbourne's Leigh Harding.

Not only was McCartney an inspiration, he was a man that many people looked up to and still do for his remarkable efforts.

At the end of the match, he was interviewed by Channel Nine where he announced his immediate retirement.

McCartney is now working wonders at the Western Bulldogs as their list manager.


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