As Gary Ablett celebrated his 35th birthday this week and prepared to take on the Western Bulldogs this Saturday, he may not have known the exclusive group he is about to join at Geelong.
As all aspects of football have gotten more professional and rigorous of the years, the ability of players to have careers long past their 30th birthday has diminished. And with the bash and crash nature of today’s game it is completely understandable that most players call it a day at around 32.
Ablett, however, will become the ninth Cats player to play senior football after his 35th birthday when he runs out at GMHBA Stadium. Incredibly however he will be only the third player to do it in the past 90 years for the Club.
The last player to do it was his premiership teammate, club games record holder and now assistant coach Corey Enright whose final game, the 2016 preliminary final, was at 35 years and nine days.
Prior to Enright it was the man who previously held the games record, Ian Nankervis, who managed to play on past 35 when he played his final game in round 22, 1983 at 35 years and 236 days.
To find the next Cats in history to reach the 35-year-old and playing mark you need to head back to a trio of teammates in the 1920’s. Jack Gray (35 years, 305 days), Billy McCarter (35 years, 318 days) and Dick Grigg (36 years, 108 days) all managed to get make it past 35 years whilst still playing even with the Great War interrupting much of their playing careers.
Prior to Gray, McCarter and Grigg, three other teammates whose names are held in as high a regard as any at the Club were able to play not only to 35 but far beyond.
Peter “The Great” Burns (36 years, 160 days), Henry “Tracker” Young (37 years, 82 days) and the oldest ever player to play for the Cats, Teddy Rankin (38 years and 105 days), produced some of the finest careers at the Club and incredibly did it in the days long before physio treatment, ice baths and dieticians.
But perhaps the greatest testament to these players and their longevity is that only two (Gray and McCarter) aren’t recognised as members of the Geelong Football Club Hall of Fame.
Now the question comes, can Ablett become the oldest Cat to ever take the field? It will take some effort with the date being to equal this record August 27, 2022. But with his current form, who says Gary can’t play on for another three years?
*Information supplied by Col Hutchison - AFL Statistics and History Consultant
*Images supplied from Bob Gartland Collection
Teddy Rankin - final match on June 25, 1910 aged 38 years 105 days
Henry Young - final match on August 6, 1910 aged 37 years and 82 days
Peter Burns - final match on June 14, 1902 aged 36 years and 160 days
Dick Grigg - final match on September 24, 1921 aged 36 years and 108 days
Billy McCarter - final match on September 6, 1924 aged 35 years and 318 days
Jack Gray - final match on June 18, 1921 aged 35 years and 305 days
Ian Nankervis - final match on August 27, 1983 aged 35 years and 236 days
Corey Enright - final match on September 23, 2016 aged 35 years and nine days