I’m with Tim Watson.
During the week, Tim said this about Gary Ablett Junior on SEN Breakfast: “I think he’s the best midfielder of the last 25 to 30 years in the game.
“I have him marked ahead of Chris Judd as a footballer.”
So do I.
Gary is the best midfielder I’ve ever seen and certainly the best player I ever had the honour of trying to play on and stop… mostly unsuccessfully.
It’s rare for a player to possess speed, power and endurance all in one. Ablett ticked them all.
He is a ball magnet and reads the play so much quicker than his opposition. His ball handling is squeaky clean, he kicks with accuracy and penetration and his ability to finish in front of goal is as good as it gets.
Also underrated is his ability to cope with a tagger throughout his career. In an age where most midfielders rarely see an opponent for the whole game, Ablett spent 10 years with pesky taggers living by his side, scragging and trying to stop him anyway they could.
He gave people like me absolute nightmares.
But at age 34 and into his second season back at Geelong, it appears his days as a midfielder are over.
According to Champion Data, Ablett spent 29% of his 19 games last season positioned in the forward half. A percentage much lower than most of us expected when his move back home was announced.
Ablett, to me, looks like a reluctant forward. He is a player who thrives on having the ball in his hands he craves 30 possessions every week. Even last year which was a disappointing one for him individually. He didn’t finish in the top 10 of the Cats Best and Fairest, yet still averaged 29 touches a game. His frustration and body language is obvious when starved of possession in the forward line.
I just can’t see him being satisfied with having 10 possessions, 6 tackles and kicking 1 or 2 goals per game - stats that are common with most good small forwards.
His body has taken a battering over his 17-year career and his busted shoulders mean he is almost incapable of tackling - a vital attribute of the modern day forward. Richmond have built their success around speedy forwards who are elite defensively and tackle like their life depends on it.
Geelong delisted Dan Menzel last year, which to me is ironic. He averaged over 2 goals per game in his last two seasons at The Cattery, but was shown the door due to a lack of defensive pressure. Yet the Cats appear happy to play Ablett in a forward line role despite him been equally poor defensively as Menzel.
Ablett kicked 16 goals from his 19 games last year. His best return in any one season is 44 from the midfield in 2010 when he was at the peak of his powers.
The last time he played as a permanent forward for a full season was 14 years ago. He averaged 14 disposals, 1.7 goals and an impressive 4.4 tackles. But at 20 years old he was young, he had hair and the way the game is played now is almost unrecognisable to those days gone by.
I just don’t see this positional move working for Ablett and the Cats.
The possibility of having the best player in the modern era finish his career starving in the forward line is a massive dilemma for Chris Scott.
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