By Lance Jenkinson
Werribee playing assistant coach Michael Barlow would answer the call from any AFL club in need of a ready-to-go midfielder.
With the AFL introducing a mid-season draft this year, the prospect of a club picking up a mature-aged player to fill an urgent need has become real.
Teams can select a player at the draft on a short-term contract with no long-term implications for their playing list.
Barlow will not actively pursue a return to the AFL, but has made no secret of his desire to play at the top level if a finals-contending club had an interest in his services.
“It’s not a discussion until someone makes me consider it,” Barlow said.
“In my heart of hearts, I know I can still play AFL football.”
Barlow had nine seasons in the AFL with Fremantle and the Gold Coast Suns.
The 31-year-old featured in Freo’s 2013 grand final side and won three Ross Glendinning Medals for best-on-ground performances in western derbies against West Coast.
He was the AFL Players Association’s best young player in 2010 after he was snapped up by Fremantle from Werribee in the 2010 AFL rookie draft.
Barlow’s last two seasons with Gold Coast Suns were frustrating because he was playing good football in his limited senior action and dominating the NEAFL, but the Suns focused on youth and somewhat froze him out.
That led to a bit of unfulfilment for Barlow at the back end of his time as an AFL player.
“A lot of players can come out of the system carrying some bitterness,” Barlow said.
“You can get down because you feel like you’re not where you should be – and that was the last 12 to 18 months of my [AFL] career.
“I thought I handled myself well on the exterior, but [also] knowing I’m probably still an AFL-standard player.”
There is no exact science when it comes to recruitment in the AFL.
In Barlow’s case, has the system thrown out a perfectly good footballer before his use-by date?
Barlow points to Western Bulldogs defender Dale Morris as an example of a player for whom age is just a number.
“He doesn’t play on the fact he’s 36,” Barlow said.
“He’s looking to play again and giving himself that opportunity – and why not? It’s not like he’s been dropped from the team.”
Barlow stressed that his total focus is on his work with Werribee in the Victorian Football League.
But one of the main reasons why he is at Werribee and has not filtered back to local football is his desire to play at the highest level for as long as possible. That immediately puts him front and square in the discussion of the AFL’s mid-season draft.
“I want to play at the highest standard I can for as long as I can,” Barlow said.
“I don’t think about it [returning to the AFL] at all, but I’ve said that I still think I’m an AFL-standard player and professional.
“As recently as last year, I played good AFL football on limited opportunities.
“When things are put in front of me … media opportunities, coaching opportunities or other professional opportunities, I can consider them. That [mid-season draft potential] hasn’t arisen, so I haven’t given it a moment of thought.”