Report: JEFF STEPHENSON
IT will be a strange experience indeed when our very own Brad Howard takes the opportunity to sit back and relax while his former teammates are out on the track later this year puffing and panting as another pre-season dawns.
While it will be something he will miss, it will not be something he will be crying over.
Brad, you see, has announced his retirement.
The road which has taken him from Toowoomba as a junior to Redland then on to St Kilda and finally, back to Redland, has reached its conclusion.
It has been a road well-travelled.
To say Brad has been an ornament to the game – to our club – to himself – is an understatement.
He has been all of those and more.
He will go down as one of the most revered players to wear the Bombers’ jumper and it’s fair to suggest he will walk away from the game he loves with not one enemy either from within the club or from the many opposition players he has duelled with over the course of his 136-game North East AFL career.
Brad at 31 has been the “elder statesman” at our club for several seasons.
It has been a label he has worn effectively and the demeanour and deportment he brings with him is something every club craves.
The younger players at Redland have looked, listened and learned from Brad’s application to the game, to his dedication, his perseverance, his tenacity, his ability to draw younger players into the system and his unscrupulously fair but nonetheless aggressive attack on the ball.
The decision to hang up the boots was not inspired by one solitary factor.
“It was a combination of many,” he said.
“It came down to questions over my own form and the mental challenge of trying to continually improve in a competition where the standard is rising year on year.
“It was also led by me turning my focus more to off field – career and family.”
And, so it has come to pass.
Brad will look back with a sense of contentment.
“The club has been a big part of my life and you only need to look at the amount of time you spend training, playing, travelling, doing the pre-season to understand what is required at this level.
“But I’ve enjoyed every moment.
“There have been absolutely no regrets.”
Brad said he was indebted to Redland for recruiting him in the first place, for helping forge his path to the AFL with St Kilda and then back to Victoria Point where he started his full-time role in sports administration.
“Redland has played a pivotal role in my life.”
“My involvement with the club has helped me as a person.”
Brad says the number of friends he has accumulated along the way is huge.
Since 2011, for instance, the numbers have grown immeasurably as they would have to with new players, new talent, new teammates making up the 30 or 40 who get listed with the Bombers each year.
But the guys who have been along for the ride are the ones who stand closest.
“Matt Thomson, Adam Boon, Tom Salter – these blokes are the ones who have been with me for the duration.
“These are the ones I think I’ve spent more time with than my family.”
Which is a good time to introduce Lyndsey into the picture.
“I’ve been very lucky as Lyndsey has been very understanding and has allowed me to play on over the years.
“She’s never one to buckle to the pressure and has a good understanding of the commitment required having played sport at a high level herself.”
Lindsey, an American, has represented Australia at indoor hockey which has led many to point out that Brad is the second-best athlete in the family.
He won’t argue with that assessment, either.
His highlights, aside from the bonds of friendship he has accumulated, include, naturally enough, the finals appearances in 2012,13 and 14.
Playing with youngsters who themselves have gone on to map out AFL careers – Josh Smith, Adam Oxley and Brad Grewer – remains a source of pride.
He agrees Redland has been something of a victim of its own success having provided so many draftees over recent seasons, which, by its very nature, impacts our continuing on-field success.
Equally important, he says, is to continue to do so: “It’s a big mantra at the club. It’s what we’re about.”
As for the future, Redland, he says, has great potential with a young list, good stability and a strong ethic.
“If we can stay healthy and manage to pick up one or two quality recruits we’ll be right in the mix.
“Look at Canberra and Southport – both of those clubs have shown how things can quickly be turned around.”
He is indebted to many individuals who have helped his progress along the way.
“At the risk of leaving people out I’d like to mention Craig Miller.
“He was footy manager at the time and was the one who got me here both times.
“Col Tobiasen, the board and the volunteers for the effort they all put in and to Cody Fullarton who has played a big part in keeping me healthy along the way.
“Then, of course, there’s the playing group and all the players I’ve been fortunate to play with over the years.
“There’s many, many more – too many to list them all.”
“This competition, as I’ve said, is getting better and better.
“It takes a lot out of you – not just physically, but mentally.
“Each week provides a new challenge and a lot of mental energy is required to step up week in – week out.”
(Brad didn’t say so, but this is particularly the case with clubs like Redland, where players have full-time jobs to deal with as well as their footy commitments.)
As head of NEAFL Operations and Competition Manager for Divisions 4 and 5, Brad will still be heavily involved, and he’ll be a regular visitor to Scottsdale Park in the future.
So, from all of us: Congratulations on a great career, Brad.
You have left an indelible impression.
And yes – you will go down as one of the Redland greats.