Former Melbourne captain James McDonald will play with the Greater Western Sydney Giants in their first season next year.
McDonald will be 35 when he resumes his career, two years after playing the last of his 251 games with the Demons. He is expected to act as a form of "playing coach", having taken a mentoring role with Victorian-based GWS-listed players this year.
GWS are in discussions with former Lion Luke Power and recently retired Port Power veterans Chad Cornes and Dean Brogan over similar roles that mix coaching and playing responsibilities.
GWS coach Kevin Sheedy successfully resuscitated the careers of veterans Mal Michael (Collingwood and Brisbane), and Paul Salmon (Essendon and Hawthorn) when Essendon coach, and reinstated club legend Tim Watson for the 1993 premiership season and 1994, after he originally retired in 1992.
Having snared younger out-of-contract players than expected – ex-Demon Tom Scully is 20; ex-Bulldog Callan Ward 21, ex-Crow Phil Davis 21, and ex-Docker Rhys Palmer, 22 – it appears that GWS is looking to shore up its list with hard-bodied veterans in its first year.
Unlike the Gold Coast Suns, whose biggest-profile signing was former Geelong great Gary Ablett (26 when recruited), the Giants have another year in which to sign uncontracted players, and they may have their sights on stars such as Collingwood's Scott Pendlebury, who has signed a one-year deal that expires at the end of next season. Such seasoned footballers could replace the "one-year" journeymen who would then move into strictly off-field coaching roles.
Many pundits considered McDonald a major loss to Melbourne when he was convinced to step aside after the 2010 season. The Demons midfielder, captain since 2008, was still in fine form at 33, and offered aggression and experience the young Demons lacked in 2011.
The Giants' strategy mixes a youth policy with a much healthier respect for the value of veterans.
McDonald, who played A-grade amateur football this year, says he is enthusiastic about the "unique opportunity".
"There's a lot that I can offer this group from my experience at Melbourne working with a young list. I think it's a smart move by the Giants to use a player like me to provide direction both on and off the ground."
McDonald told SEN radio this morning that he was "flattered" by the offer from GWS, which he said developed over the course of 2011.
He said he would be ready to play despite being out of the game at the elite level for a year.
"Fortunately my body's pretty good. I didn't need any operations when I finished up at Melbourne and I don't carry much weight, so I think that will help.
"It's going to be a challenge but I think having a year off has freshened me up mentally and hopefully its given the body a bit time – it was getting a bit tired towards the end.
"But it feels really good at the moment and I'm pretty confident that with a good pre-season I can get up to the level that I need to get up to."
McDonald was bullish about the prospects of GWS signing Scully, an ex-teammate at Melbourne.
"He's been in a tough position but he's going to be a huge asset to GWS. I only had one year with him but he's a kid of great character and he's going to be a really great asset for GWS."
Graeme Allan, general manager of football operations, said McDonald had a lot to offer the Giants, crediting his insights and leadership following a long career in the AFL system.
"He doesn't need to play every game next year, but certainly it is an exciting prospect for this group to have a leader out there with them who can following through his off-field instructions and coaching out on the ground.
"It's a unique concept, particularly in modern football, but we're committed to looking at doing things differently here so that we can maximise the development of our players."