An image with representations of graphs and charts, and an image of Fremantle AFL player David Mundy.

Inside the Game: Hard work, sharp skills, high footy IQ and getting better after 30 — how David Mundy found the fountain of youth

For centuries, nay millennia, people have been obsessed with finding the fountain of youth. Rich mythology from the times of Alexander the Great and the legends of Greek history onwards have spoken about the quest for eternal youth.

Conquistador Juan Ponce de León was said to have been searching for the fabled fountain in the 16th century when he met his untimely demise in Florida, becoming an early example of “Florida Man”.

Perhaps Ponce de León would have been better off searching in and around Seymour: That’s where David Mundy hails from. Despite the endless march of the clock, Mundy seems to get better each year.

On Monday, Mundy called time on his illustrious and lengthy career. Since 2005, Mundy has been a rock for the tribe in purple, a constant force.

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His journey is unique, aging like a portrait of Dorian Gray and following a path that few, if any, players before had forged.

Blue Mundy

Mundy’s place as one of the competition’s best players in the 2020s would have been utterly inconceivable in late 2004. Back then, Mundy was a talented junior player plying his trade for a talented Murray Bushrangers’ side, as well as for Vic Country.

David Mundy started his career with the Dockers in 2005 in defense.(Getty Images: Adam Pretty)

But Mundy wasn’t playing through the middle, instead playing as a full-back.

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A surplus of talented players for the Bushrangers led the coaches to call for volunteers to play down back. The selfless Mundy volunteered for the new role, and he thrived in it.

Mundy started his career in defense, with his first AFL season ending with third place in the Rising Star list.

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But Mundy’s future was in the middle, a move that has paid dividends. His years in defense improved his ability to read the flight and bounce of the ball. Mundy is able to snatch the ball from the grasp of opponents at will.

His teammates — such as longtime teammate Michael Walters — attribute his ongoing ability to his footy IQ.

“He’s one of the smartest players I’ve ever played with. He knows his way around the footy field which obviously gives him the longevity,” Walters said last year.

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On the field Mundy shapes as the hardest worker out there, often jumping and reacting before others can get a jump on the play. It’s perhaps why his game has aged so well, reliant less on speed than smarts.

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That’s not to discount his athletic abilities. One of the reasons that Mundy was a credible, tall defender was his sheer size and strength. At 193cm and 93kgs, Mundy was arguably one of the first of the current wave of “big bodied players”, paving the way for Patrick Cripps, Marcus Bontempelli and Christian Petracca.

A dot map of David Mundy's disposals in the 2022 AFL season, with blue dots for kicks and orange dots representing handballs.
David Mundy’s disposal locations in 2022.(Supplied: Cody Atkinson and Sean Lawson)

Few can win the ball on the inside then drill the perfect ball down the throat of a leading forward. Mundy is able to release the ball to teammates via pinpoint handballs or shred opposition defenses via foot, with his disposal skills getting sharper over time.

He’s also got a knack of impacting the game when it matters.

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Mundy stands almost alone for how his game has aged and improved over time. His 20 Brownlow Medal votes last year was the most of his career, and the most for a player over 34 years of age since 1985.

Help the aged

Major milestones have become a regular occurrence for footy fans in recent years. Of the 98 players to play in at least 300 games, 63 have played in the 2000s.

In the past three years, the 10 “oldest” sides in VFL/AFL history have all been fielded by the ladder-leading Geelong.

The rules about player age and performance are being rewritten on a yearly basis, with improved fitness regimes and sports science programs a contributing factor.

However, the long hangover from the Coulter Law — instituted in 1930’s VFL, capping payments and outlawing sign-on bonuses and other inducements — and lessons learned from it, might have finally eased on selection panels and recruiting departments across the league.

In the last round of the 1947 season, Melbourne spearhead Fred Fanning walked off the field triumphantly after kicking 18 goals in an afternoon of footy.

Despite the Fuchsias missing the finals by a game, Melbourne had real hope for the future, led by their 25-year-old goal master.

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However, it would be Fanning’s last game in the red and blue. Fanning received an offer for at least three times more money to play and coach in his wife’s home town of Hamilton. Fanning led his new club to a premiership immediately and kicked bags of goals for years to come.

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Fanning was far from the only player to leave the VFL in their prime. Peter Box is the only Bulldog to win a Brownlow Medal and a Premiership and was just 25 years old when he played his last VFL game. Box left for more money in towns like Goreng Goreng and Narrandera, where he dominated the competition.

The Coulter Law, in existence from 1930 to 1970, limited players to a meager wage, three pounds, for much of the time. Players would often build a platform in the VFL, before chasing proper professionalism in the VFA or lower leagues.

That law chased older and successful players out of the game, and gave clubs with good commercial contacts a huge edge.

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