End of an era: Celebrating the impact of AFLW's 2023 retiring class

It's that time of year when players decide to jump off the rollercoaster of AFLW. From a fan's perspective, this season seems to hurt more with much loved players and trailblazers hanging up the boots.

ESPN looks at some of the retiring class of 2023 and the legacy they've left on the game.

The biggest name is Erin Phillips, who played 66 games at the top level. Her resume just about speaks for itself: She's a three-time premiership player for Adelaide where she won the best on ground medal in 2017 and 2019. Phillips is a two-time recipient of the AFLW best and fairest award, and was also selected in the All-Australian team on three occasions.

Phillips helped set the tone and build the foundations of both South Australian teams, being named the inaugural captain of Port Adelaide and one of the inaugural co-captains at the Crows. Not to mention she did it all during her 30s, which is around the time in an athlete's career when people start to write them off.

To put it simply, Phillips is a once in a generation player and we may never see anything like her again. While the competition was just starting, the now 38-year-old was setting the field alight and bringing fans into the game.

Not only that but she was one of the first cross-code athletes in the AFLW, after a successful basketball career with the Australian Opals and the Dallas Wings in the WNBA. Now we're seeing athletes from all sports either make the switch to AFLW or juggle both.

Coming into the competition, Phillips wanted to live out the dream of playing the sport she grew up with. Now, eight seasons later, she leaves the competition inspiring the next generation of women to take up Aussie rules, no matter the age.

Richelle 'Rocky' Cranston was quite the journeywoman, playing for three clubs across her 60-game career with stints at Melbourne, Geelong and, most recently, the Western Bulldogs. She'll be remembered as a fierce competitor who was a scary prospect for opposition sides but above all else, would do just about anything for her team.

After being delisted from the Cats at the end of the 2021 season, when the announcement came that she'd be joining the Bulldogs, you couldn't quite forget the joy amongst AFLW fans out west of Melbourne. After five seasons of coming up against Cranston, she'd finally return to the club she played for in the exhibition series and don the red, white and blue.

Cranston kicked 31 goals at the top level, but her resilience in her final season will be something that will leave an impact on the competition as a whole. The 34-year-old is currently battling a kidney disease which meant being able to play was a challenge in itself.

Speaking post-match after the Bulldogs' loss to North Melbourne in Round 10, head coach Nathan Burke said Cranston leaves behind a special legacy.

"I don't think I've ever seen a player, men's or women's, go through the adversity that she went through, and the uncertainty that she went through this year, to get out and play," Burke said.

"Her legacy as a footballer will live on, her legacy as a player who wrung every single ounce out of herself, is better than anyone I've ever seen."

Jess Wuetschner was one of those players that you just loved to watch, except when she'd be lining up against your team. A foundation Lion and Bomber, Wuetschner always brought that spark and creativity up forward for Brisbane and late on with Essendon.

Wuetschner was a key part of the Lions' success in their early years, becoming the club's leading goal kicker in 2018 and 2019 and being named All-Australian in the former.

The 31-year-old was there for the Grand Final heartbreak of 2017 and 2018 before achieving the ultimate success in 2021, when the Lions defeated the Crows for their maiden premiership.

Unlike the previous two players mentioned, Wuetschner still has at least one game to go if she's selected. With Essendon making the finals series for the first time, there's one more premiership medallion that could be added the cabinet before officially calling it a day.

Fellow retiree Akec Makur Chuot is known for her infectious personality. On the field, Makur Chout played for Fremantle, Richmond and Hawthorn across 40 games and became the first South Sudanese player in the AFLW. Off the field, she's inspiring the next generation of African AFLW players coaching the Women's West team in the NextGen Unite Cup.

After making the switch from the Tigers to the Hawks ahead of Season 7, Makur Chout was a rock in defence for her new expansion side, quickly becoming an integral part of the Hawthorn structure while continuing to be a much-loved member of the AFLW community.

Those four names aren't the only ones to say farewell in Season 8, with the likes of Phoebe McWilliams and Tegan Cunningham also calling time on their career. As the season draws to a close, the legacies left by these retiring stars will continue to inspire and shape the league in the years to come.