It’s 2020, so it makes sense that two of the Geelong Football Club’s greatest players should happen to play together in their 300th and 350th games respectively.
For Joel Selwood and Gary Ablett Jnr, their joint milestone this Saturday evening represents a shared journey, but also one that has taken diverging paths.
Considering the milestones are just 50 games apart it reflects even greater on the achievement of the two players. For Selwood, despite starting his career a full five seasons later than Ablett, he has still managed to close within 50 games of him.
It is also testament to Ablett’s longevity in the game. If not for a chain of serious injuries during the middle of his Gold Coast career, Ablett may be lining up for game 400 this week. His second coming to Geelong has seen him average an incredible 23.5 disposals and a goal a game.
Long before both players pulled on the Hoops they idolised the Cats and one player in particular. Whilst Ablett’s hero was his dad and he spent his childhood years inside the rooms of Kardinia Park, Selwood, dressed in his Cats guernsey, would admire the club and his hero in number 5 from his backyard in Bendigo.
Again, their arrivals at the club were vastly different. For Ablett, it was via pick 40 in the draft as a father-son selection. Having a father who is widely regarded as the greatest player the game has seen put enormous pressure on the young Ablett. Despite having prodigious talent, some observers questioned what sort of player Ablett would become, with the pick the Cats used considered fair by many at the time.
Speak to any of Selwood’s junior football or athletics coaches and they all say that he was destined to become an Olympian or an AFL footballer. The year prior to his draft, when Ablett and the Cats were on their way to a heartbreaking semi-final defeat, Selwood was taking on the junior footballing world. 2005 culminated with Selwood captaining the Australian U18 side as a bottom ager and taking out the Ron Barassi medal for best player at the carnival.
Much like 2006 brought pain to the Cats, it also brought heartache for Selwood. A serious knee injury suffered after three games in his final year of U18s meant surgery and prognosis that said the then potential number one draft pick may never be able to play at the elite level. But anyone who knows Selwood would know he would see that as a challenge rather than a death knell on a promising career.
He rehabbed his knee diligently and by the time the week of the draft had come around the Cats all of a sudden realised they had the potential to acquire a highly touted midfielder from Bendigo.
“As it turned out I rang Joel on the Tuesday before the draft and said ‘look mate I think I better come and see you because I reckon there’s a chance you’re going to slip through’,” National List and Recruiting Manager Stephen Wells said.
“I do remember leaving my home – the draft was on a Saturday morning – and saying to my wife as I walked out the door, if you hear that we’ve drafted a boy called Joel Selwood today you know we’ve had a good day,” Wells said.
Selwood’s first training session with the Cats saw him leave the ground within three minutes with blood pouring from a cut on his forehead. Ablett, meanwhile, had taken on the feedback of his teammates and hit 2007 with a renewed focus on what he was able to become as an AFL footballer.
By the end of the season, both had redeemed themselves to the doubters and both would be Premiership players.
From there, both their career trajectories skyrocketed.
By the end of 2010, Selwood had become a two-time premiership player, two-time All Australian, best and fairest winner and had received one of his four AFLPA most courageous player awards, the youngest ever to do so at the time.
Ablett’s trophy case would hold two premiership medallions, four All Australians, two best & fairest awards and, of course, the 2009 Brownlow Medal.
But that would be the end of the joint accolades for the two as Ablett departed the Cats at the end of the season to captain Gold Coast as they entered the AFL competition.
As Ablett commenced his new career with the Suns, Selwood was also getting his first taste of formal leadership as he was appointed vice-captain to Cameron Ling at the start of the 2011 season.
Twelve months later and Selwood would add another premiership medal to his collection whilst also being the runner-up in the Norm Smith Medal voting. As premiership captain Cameron Ling announced his retirement, the club would pass the baton onto Selwood making him the captain of the club at just 23.
As fate would have it, their paths would nearly become entwined again in 2013 when Ablett pipped Selwood by one vote for the 2013 Brownlow Medal.
Many a Cats supporter could have been forgiven for asking the question that year and in many years, “what if Gary had stayed?”.
However, fantasy became a reality in 2018 when Ablett requested a trade back to the Cats. All of a sudden, two of the greatest names in the history of the club were back beside each other at centre bounces.
For Cats fans, the re-coupling of two of the greatest Geelong players to ever play is hopefully not the end.
We can only hope their shared journey has another stop on it, the Premiership dais later this year.
All time AFL stats leaders:
#4 Gary Ablett Jnr
#14 Joel Selwood
#2 Gary Ablett Jnr
#6 Joel Selwood
#2 Joel Selwood
#3 Gary Ablett Jnr
Total Inside 50s:
#2 Gary Ablett Jnr
#9 Joel Selwood
#4 Joel Selwood
#5 Gary Ablett Jnr
Total Contested Possessions:
#1 Gary Ablett Jnr
#5 Joel Selwood
Total Goal Assists:
#3 Gary Ablett Jnr
#5 Joel Selwood