13 years, two clubs, 169 AFL games, 29 Brownlow Medal votes, three-time International Rules representative; it’s the legacy Pearce Hanley will leave behind.
The 31-year-old Irishman made the decision to call time on his playing career this week, notifying players and staff of his intention to retire immediately.
Hanley will finish his AFL career as one of the most prolific Irishmen to have played the game, sitting fourth overall on the career games list.
He’s behind the likes of Hall of Famer and ’91 Brownlow Medallist Jim Stynes, Premiership Swan Tadgh Kennelley and current Geelong veteran Zach Tuohy.
The Hanley name will forever be linked as a success story of the Irish experiment in the AFL, and as a role model for budding young footballers from the country willing to make the transition.
Born in England in 1988, Hanley moved to Ireland at a young age.
He grew up with a preference of playing soccer, but there was no denying Hanley had a gift when it came to Gaelic football.
After impressing through his junior career, Hanley was called up to represent his country in the Under 17 International Rules series and went on to win the Ron Barassi Medal for player of the series against Australia.
He made his senior Gaelic debut for County Mayo shortly after and was on the radar of AFL recruiters, eventually signing a rookie contract with the Brisbane Lions in 2007 to begin his AFL career.
Hanley had been watching fellow countrymen Kennelley and Martin Clarke have success in the AFL, and linked up with another Irishman Colm Begley at the Lions who he could turn to in his early years.
The Gaelic convert impressed with his raw talent in his first season and was called up to make his debut in Round 21, 2008 against Carlton.
Over the next eight years with the Brisbane Lions, Hanley would go on to be one of the club’s most consistent players.
He found his place as a rebounding defender who eventually transitioned into the midfield, where his speed was a dangerous weapon.
Perhaps the best match of his career came in the 2014, Round 18 QClash where Hanley, playing against the SUNS, racked up 45 disposals, five tackles and two goals to earn the Marcus Ashcroft Medal and three Brownlow votes.
After a year where he played all 22 games and averaged 21 disposals, four marks and four tackles per game in 2016, Hanley came to the Gold Coast where he would continue his career with the SUNS.
A wretched run with injury ensued, with Hanley encountering hamstring setbacks in his first year with the club to play 13 games.
At the end of 2017 Hanley was called up to play in the International Rules Series for Ireland but fractured his hand in the first match.
He recovered from the injury in time for the start of the 2018 season, but dislocated his shoulder in the practice game leading into Round 1.
Re-injuring the same shoulder in Round 3, Hanley only managed three games that year.
2019 was a different story.
Hanley was appointed as the club’s vice-captain and bounced back to play 16 games, finishing 8th in Gold Coast’s Club Champion.
He celebrated his 150th AFL match with the SUNS last season and had family from Ireland fly in to watch him play his milestone game.
Fast forward to 2020, and Hanley will retire having played 169 AFL matches.
But perhaps one of the most rewarding things he’s been able to do this year is welcome Irish recruit Luke Towey to the club.
Just like Colm Begley did when Hanley was first starting his career, the veteran has acted as a mentor for Towey who joined the club on a rookie contract.
Towey has followed a similar path to Hanley after impressing in Gaelic football with County Sligo, and came to the club well aware of Hanley’s prominence as a successful Irish import.
That’s the legacy Pearce Hanley has left behind.
When once it was a young Hanley looking up to Kennelley and Stynes, now he’s having the same effect on the next generation.