Geelong Cats champion Gary Ablett’s dominating game statistics

To the naked eye it is clear that Gary Ablett has been peerless at his best.

Looking beyond that, using statistics, what more do we learn?

In short, we learn that our eyes did not deceive us.

Gary Ablett tackles Aaron Joseph in 2010. Credit:Jason South

We compared Ablett’s stats to that of some fellow 300-game midfielders from his generation, plus a handful of today’s superstars, to find out more. The players are: Shaun Burgoyne, Brendon Goddard, Sam Mitchell, Scott Pendlebury, Joel Selwood, Jimmy Bartel, Dustin Martin, Patrick Dangerfield, Nat Fyfe and Marcus Bontempelli.

  • During an extraordinary seven-season peak (2007-2014) Ablett averaged 31 disposals, 1.3 goals and 1.5 score assists per game as a midfielder. Our Champion Data analyst said: “No other player has had the ability to accumulate disposals and hit the scoreboard like that.”
  • Over his career, he has averaged 25 disposals, 4.3 clearances, 4.5 inside 50s and 1.3 goals per game. Against the current benchmark Martin, Ablett compares very favourably. Both excel at score assists, averaging 1.3 score per game over their careers.
  • Ablett isn’t big. He’s no Martin, Fyfe or Dangerfield. But he still averaged 11.3 contested possessions per game, only .1 less than teammate Selwood, who is considered more of a midfield bull. That’s also a better contested possession average than Mitchell (10.4), Pendlebury (10.8), Martin (10.1) and Bartel (8.3).
  • Ablett tackles a lot. Among this group, he is ranked fourth for average tackles per game. Ablett had 109 tackles last year as a forward (108). He also did plenty of grunt work when at his midfield peak (96 in a 2013 Brownlow Medal year, 110 in 2012, 119 in 2011 and 95 in 2008). While tackling overall has increased in the AFL since his debut in 2002, Ablett tackled just as much, if not more, when he was a midfielder as opposed to his time as a forward.
    That he tackled so much at Gold Coast, while shouldering basically all of their creative midfield load, shows just how complete his domination was during his time in Queensland.
  • Ablett’s best goal kicking year was 44 in 2010 as a midfielder, and a second best of 35 in 2004 as a forward. The only player to kick more in a season from this elite group is Dangerfield, who kicked 45 in 2017, but he also played forward that season
  • Ablett has kicked 30 or more goals in five seasons (2010, 2004, 2006, 2019 and 2007) and more than 20 goals in seven seasons (2013, 2009, 2003, 2008, 2012, 2014).

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AFL 2020: Gary Ablett’s greatest hits

2007: Greatness arrives

It’s easy to forget now, but Ablett’s first five seasons in the AFL were, frankly, nothing special. He had his moments, even some games where he would dominate, and the brilliant skills were always lurking beneath the surface. But in essence, he was a half-forward flanker, capable of winning matches for his side but nowhere near consistently. The turning point came at the end of 2006. Geelong famously came close to sacking coach Mark Thompson but stuck with him. Ablett was issued some home truths by teammates and upped his workrate to become the game’s best midfielder in the space of a season. Geelong went on a 15-game winning streak, and Ablett almost made it 16, baulking his way past four Port Adelaide players deep in the final quarter of a round 21 match at Kardinia Park to put the Cats ahead. Cassisi was Ablett’s man that afternoon and saved Port’s bacon with a last-gasp goal of his own.

“His goal was unbelievable,” Cassisi remembers.

“He dodged four or five of us, made us look stupid, as he does. I thought ‘I’ve cost us the game, because it’s my job purely to stop him’. I was lucky I was able to even it up.”

The Cats made it through to the preliminary final where they were taken all the way by Collingwood. Enter Ablett, who shrugged off a tackle and snapped a goal deep in the final term that would ultimately prove the difference between the sides.

The following week Geelong crushed Port in the grand final, ending a 44-year premiership drought.

Ablett seals the preliminary final against Collingwood in 2007.Credit:Channel Seven

2009: Charlie and the chocolates

Ablett had another brilliant season in 2008 and was arguably robbed of the Norm Smith Medal as the Cats went down to Hawthorn in a grand final upset. He began the following season in similar touch, polling Brownlow Medal votes in eight of his first nine games for the season. In round four against Adelaide, Ablett marked his 150th game with a ridiculous 46 disposals and three goals. The following weekend he racked up 42 touches and two goals in the wet against Brisbane including a jaw-dropping goal from the dead of the pocket as desperate Lions tried in vain to stop him. Then in round six he roved a tap from ruckman Mark Blake and goaled inside 10 seconds against Melbourne.

Ablett wastes no time against the Dees.Credit:Channel Seven

Another magnificent campaign continued, culminating in a Brownlow Medal and a second premiership. Ablett’s role on grand final day is part of football legend, being on the receiving end of a Matthew Scarlett toe-poke from which Ablett sent the ball long to full forward, where Paul Chapman kicked the winner against St Kilda.

2010: The champion departs

Ablett was at the peak of his power and expansion club Gold Coast identified him as the man to lead the fledgling club. Ablett’s reluctance to commit to the Cats strained his relationship with Thompson. The Geelong community was desperate to keep Ablett, so much so that the Geelong Advertiser was rebranded as the Abblettiser for a day. Ablett was magnificent to the last, arguably best afield in a losing preliminary final against Collingwood. But he was out the door, signing with the Suns.

2011: Suns out, gun out

Ablett was teamed with a handful of other experienced players but mostly kids at the new club, where expectations were rightly limited. Gold Coast won just three games in each of their first two seasons, but Ablett excelled, picking up three Brownlow votes in the club’s memorable first win over Port amongst 47 votes he’d compile across 2011 and 2012.

“You might have been able to keep him quiet for 15 minutes of a quarter but then within seven minutes he could have six or seven disposals and three or four of them might be him kicking a goal or [setting one up],” said Cassisi.

“When you were playing on him, you had to be there for every minute of the game.”

2013: More than Coasting

Ablett started 2013 in incredible fashion. He had 34 disposals and kicked four goals – including three in the final quarter – to lead Gold Coast to a come-from-behind win over St Kilda at Metricon Stadium.

Ablett goals against St Kilda for Gold Coast in 2013.Credit:Channel Seven

A couple of months later he returned to Geelong, playing his first game at Kardinia Park since his move from the Cats. The Suns lost, but Ablett had 34 disposals and kicked two goals, one of which was eerily reminiscent to his effort from the pocket against the Lions four years earlier. There was little resentment from Geelong fans, just respect and admiration.

Ablett kicks an incredible goal playing for Gold Coast against Geelong in 2013.Credit:Channel Seven

The Suns ended up winning eight games for the season and Ablett won a second Brownlow. He was on track for a third the following season before suffering a horrible shoulder injury mid-year in a tackle from Collingwood’s Brent Macaffer. It set in train a disastrous chain of events for Gold Coast, who dropped out of the top eight and missed the finals before sacking coach Guy McKenna. Ablett battled injuries for the next three seasons, playing just 34 of 66 matches between 2015 and 2017. McKenna’s replacement Rodney Eade came and went.

The Age revealed in late 2016 that Ablett requested a trade back to Geelong in that year’s trade period for personal reasons. That request was denied, but the following season Ablett eventually departed.

2018: The return of the Sun

Ablett shone on return for the Cats, playing 19 matches and polling 14 Brownlow votes. He backed it up with an excellent 2019, earning selection in the All-Australian squad. His stunning talent continued to thrill, with a screamer over Hawthorn’s David Mirra on Easter Monday 2019 worthy of any highlight reel.

Ablett runs riot against Hawthorn.Credit:Channel Seven

Eliminated in a preliminary final last year, Ablett decided to go on for one more season with Geelong in 2020, playing largely as a forward. His season was interrupted when he returned home from the Cats’ West Australian hub as his son Levi continues to battle a rare illness. But Ablett returned for the tail end of the season and played a pivotal role in winning a preliminary final against Brisbane.

Cassisi, like so many, is sad to see him go.

“He was definitely the hardest player to play on. Sometimes he’d have the ball and you’d go to tackle him and somehow you’re on the ground and he’s gone. You just look at any sport. The people that are the greatest, they just make things happen. He was just one of those guys,” Cassisi said.

“These guys are the best guys of our generation, and it is sad to see him finish up. He’s still playing good footy. His legacy will live on.”

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