The curtain may have come down on the career of one of the best players to represent the Bathurst Bushrangers after player-coach Steve Withers said he is unlikely to return next year.
Withers had always intended to step down from the coaching position but after Saturday’s Central West AFL grand final victory over Cowra, but he extended the retirement to playing as well.
However, the 34-year-old did leave the door open for a return in 2010.
“I’m a bit undecided at this stage. I didn’t have any intention of playing again next year but I will wait until after Christmas and see how I’m feeling and I might get a taste for it again but at this stage, that’s it,” he said.
“I need to weight up whether I go on. This [the grand final win] is what we play footy for. Times likes this and moments like this.
“There’s a lot of hard work and effort that goes on behind the scenes, especially as a coach. All of the mental side of it, the match-ups and drills and strategies, so it will be good to have a break away from it all, let someone else take over the coaching role.”
If he does decide to hang up the boots, it will be a fitting finish to the career of a player who has dedicated the last four years to building Bathurst into the strong club it is today.
Originally from Wagga, Withers spent 20 years playing for the North Wagga Saints in the Farrar Football League before moving to Bathurst in 1999 to join the now defunct Central West League team, the Kelso Crows.
In 2000 he moved to Western Suburbs in the Sydney League but he snapped ankle ligaments in a semi-final for the club and spent five years out of the game before joining the Bushrangers as a player in 2006.
When Tony Lewis stepped down from the head coaching role at the end of 2006, Withers became player-coach and guided the team to three successive grand finals, culminating in Saturday’s win.
Withers said that the Bushrangers had grown in strength and numbers during his time there, adding one of the most pleasing aspects about his role had been watching the players come through.
“Despite the last three years of going through a rebuilding phase, the club has been able to supply quality players and quality teams to make it all the way through to the grand finals, so despite stumbling at the final hurdle over the last couple of years I think it’s been a real learning curve,” he said.
“Blokes like Pauly Long, best on ground today, he’s a club junior so to see blokes like him and Peter Grundy, Steve Grundy, Matt Archer, all these kids that have been coming through the 17’s for a couple of years, they stepped up today.”
Withers said that seeing the club win the premiership in all four grades on Saturday was the best possible outcome for the Bushrangers.
“It doesn’t get any bigger or better than that, it’s just a phenomenal year and words can’t describe how good it is for the club to get four out of four,” he said.
“Probably at the start of the year one or two of those might have been unexpected, but at the end of the day it all fell into place for us.
“We worked hard for it, I didn’t wish anybody luck today because in grand finals you make your own luck and we worked hard to deserve the spots and the premierships.”