ESSENDON 129-gamer Jason Winderlich will return to his Gippsland roots this season after signing for Traralgon Football Netball Club.
The Thorpdale local struggled with injury the past two seasons and announced his AFL retirement in September, after taking the field just once throughout the Bombers’ 2015 campaign.
However, at 31 years of age the 2002 first round draft pick is not quite ready to hang up the boots just yet.
Maroons football operations manager Andrew Quenault said Winderlich was still keen to play a quality standard of football and get home from Melbourne – where he still lives and works – more regularly.
“He wants to come home and play in Gippsland… he wants to get home a bit more to see family and friends and wanted to play at the highest level (in the region),” Quenault said.
“His body’s just not up to AFL standard anymore, but certainly up for the standard we’re playing.
“His on-field leadership (will be instrumental). He’ll work with the coaching staff and buy into what they’re trying to do within the club.”
Traralgon has been on the hunt for a big signing for the past couple of seasons, and finally netted its first true marquee player since Geoff Cunningham, who coached the club to successive premierships.
With a young list currently on deck for the reigning Gippsland League premier, Quenault said Winderlich came as a prime example to the squad of what’s possible for a country kid from a small Gippsland town.
“We’ve got a very young list so having that extra AFL experience is going to help us out a heap, all the way down to training and helping with setups, the way the game is played now – the modern game,” Quenault said.
“It’s all about helping them get to where they need to be or want to be because we still have a lot of young kids who aspire to get down to Melbourne, whether that be VFL or if any of them get lucky enough an AFL game.
“We’re all about doing that and pushing them as far as they can go.”
Winderlich has signed on to play Traralgon home games plus finals at this stage, and Quenault said he had expressed interest in playing for more than one season.
Winderlich will join Ben Amberg as the only 2016 players not to have come through the Maroons’ juniors.
Premiership coach Mark Collison will again take charge in the title defence.