After an eight-year absence, two-time Brownlow Medal winner Gary Ablett is primed for a starring role when he takes to the big stage of the AFL finals once again.
Ablett was 26 when he played his last final – a preliminary final loss for Geelong to eventual premiers Collingwood in 2010.
The midfield maestro then departed for fledgling Gold Coast on a hefty contract, hopeful a big leg up from the AFL would translate into finals and eventually premiership flags.
But after 110 games in seven unsuccessful seasons with the Suns, Ablett will play the 18th final of his decorated career when the Cats take on Melbourne at the MCG on Friday night.
“I know that he’s excited about the opportunity that he gets again,” skipper Joel Selwood said.
“There was probably a period for Gaz when he didn’t think it was going to come for him.
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“It’s really what he’s come back for, to be honest.
“He wanted to come back to play finals footy and he gets the opportunity … he’ll be ready.”
Ablett, now 34, has been at pains to remind people he just isn’t capable of ripping games apart with the regularity he was once capable of.
But even though he’s struggled on occasion in his heralded return, coach Chris Scott is quietly confident Ablett is ready to turn back the clock.
“He had some challenges early in the season … he’s had some peaks and troughs throughout the year, but he’s ready to play his best footy when it really counts,” Scott said.
“I can’t guarantee that’s what will transpire but he’s certainly given himself every chance to produce when it really counts.
“They’re the players that the whole footy industry really rates … the ones who can somehow find an extra level on the big stage.
“I suspect he’s primed for that.”