K rock Football

Gaz primed for big finish to tough year

Gary Ablett embraces Harry Taylor following Geelong’s preliminary final win over the Brisbane Lions. (AFL Photos Image/Michael Willson)

RETIRING Geelong champion Gary Ablett concedes his farewell AFL season has been one of his toughest as he looks to go out on a high in Saturday’s grand final against Richmond.

The dual Brownlow Medal winner missed nine matches mid-season for family reasons and has endured a difficult year off the field.

His young son Levi was diagnosed with a rare and degenerative disease earlier this year, and wife Jordan’s mother died in August.

The young family relocated to Queensland and spent two weeks in quarantine before joining Geelong’s travel bubble to give Ablett a shot at winning a third premiership in what will be his 357th and final game after 19 seasons at the top level.

“It has been a challenging year, there’s no doubt about that, but the football club has been amazing and there’s a lot of people that have made sacrifices so that I can be up here playing football again,” Ablett said.

“I’m just so appreciative of that and this is the reason we play footy – we’re going into a grand final.”

Ablett was an influential figure with two third-quarter goals in the 40-point preliminary final win over Brisbane and has played a key role for the Cats since returning to action in round 18.

But the 36-year-old has never had second thoughts about his retirement decision, declaring it one based around both mental and physical factors.

Ablett is eager to spend more time with his family after almost two decades in a demanding profession.

“The game doesn’t get easier and over the last couple of years my body hasn’t been able to do what it could do in my younger years,” Ablett said.

“Going into pre-seasons I’ve just had to adapt to that and work out other ways that I could help the team.”

That has meant moving back to the forward line for the last two seasons in the same role in which he began his career in 2002.

In between, Ablett was one of the game’s greatest ever midfielders, winning the Brownlow Medal twice, with the Cats (2009) and Gold Coast (2013), among a host of individual accolades.

But it is premierships he craves most.

Ablett is one of seven Cats players from the preliminary final team, which will likely remain unchanged this week, who have previous grand final experience.

He featured in Geelong’s 2007 and 2009 flags either side of a grand final defeat to Hawthorn in 2008.

“I’ve been fortunate enough to play in grand finals so I’ll be getting around the younger boys as much as I can and helping them out with the week,” Ablett said.

“It’s obviously important that they enjoy the week but at the same time they need to prepare for another game.

“We’ll be ready to go come Saturday.”

(C) AAP 2020