St Kilda champion Lenny Hayes has today announced that his 16-year career will come to a close at the end of 2014.

Hayes will play out the season with the Saints after confirming his retirement in a special message to St Kilda members this morning.

The 34-year-old will retire as one of the most decorated players in St Kilda’s history and one of the most universally admired and respected footballers of all time.

Hayes has played 291 games and kicked 94 goals in a career that began when he was drafted by the Saints with pick 11 at the 1998 National AFL Draft after winning theMorrish Medal for the best and fairest in the TAC Cup.

Hayes went on to win three club best and fairests and finished in the top three a further four times. His most recent best and fairest came in 2012, in his first year back from his second knee reconstruction, aged 32.

He was named in the All-Australian team in 2003, 2005 and 2009 and represented Australia in the International Rules in 2003.

The midfielder captained the Saints in 2004 (which included the first of two pre-season premierships) and 2007 when he shared the role with Nick Riewoldt and Luke Ball.
He was an instrumental part of the 2009 and 2010 Grand Final teams and is the club’s only Norm Smith medallist for his efforts in the 2010 draw.

Hayes said calling time on his playing career was a difficult decision but ultimately the right choice.

“I love playing football and I love the St Kilda football club so it was never going to be easy to make this call,” Hayes said.

“It has been a tremendous journey. I am enormously grateful for experiences I have had and the lifelong friends I have made in my time playing for St Kilda.

“While the team has its challenges at the moment, I am confident that with the right guidance from Alan Richardson and our senior players, our young playing list will develop strongly and can take the Saints to success once again in the not too distant future.”

Saints coach Alan Richardson paid tribute to the retiring midfielder for his contribution to the Saints.

“I have always held Lenny in the highest esteem as an outsider looking in but since I have come to St Kilda, my opinion of him has only grown,” Richardson said.

“He is held in the highest regard by everyone in the football world and the leadership he has shown both on and off the field has been nothing short of outstanding. He will be remembered as one of St Kilda’s all-time greats.”

The Saints will celebrate Hayes’ career with a special tribute game against the Western Bulldogs in round 20, which will be the club’s final home and away game of the season.