IT WAS a send-off fit for a legend.
Just three minutes after Richmond received its 2020 premiership cup, Tigers players lined opposite their Geelong counterparts to form a guard of honour to farewell Gary Ablett.
The crowd delivered a standing ovation, too.
As he fought off tears and hugged his young family, Ablett closed the curtain on his majestic 357-game career.
And with it came his evolution from modern-day champion to all-time great.
For so much of his career, the scriptwriters have got it right with Ablett. The flags, the Brownlows, the brilliance and the sheer dominance.
On Saturday night it wasn't to be, the 36-year-old injuring his left shoulder in the opening minutes of the game before battling on manfully as the Cats were overrun in the second half.
But that won't take any gloss off what he produced for football fans over 19 seasons.
Despite the setback, he still threatened to produce key moments like his deft handball to set-up a goal in the second quarter and a typical superb pass to Tom Hawkins in the third.
And while the opportunity was taken out of his hands on Saturday night, Ablett will forever be synonymous with the big moments.
Geelong may never have got there if not for his two critical goals to bury Brisbane in the third term last weekend that ended the Cats' preliminary final hoodoo.
In the 2007 preliminary final it was Ablett showcasing his class from stoppages to snap a decisive third-quarter goal and book Geelong's first Grand Final in 12 years.
Eight days later he pounced on an early Port Adelaide turnover to convert from 30m and start the ball rolling on ending Geelong's 44-year premiership drought.
As Hawthorn caused one of the biggest Grand Final boilovers in history 12 months on, it was Ablett who had the ball on a string. He kicked two goals from 34 disposals and was awfully unlucky not to win a Norm Smith Medal.
He was there again in 2009 with the game in the balance deep into the final quarter, receiving Matthew Scarlett's extraordinary toe-poke in the middle of the MCG, evading a tackler to pump the ball to the top of the goalsquare for Paul Chapman's match-winner.
And in 2010 he was the best player on the ground in the Cats' 40-point preliminary final loss to Collingwood in the midst of tension with coach Mark Thompson and a pending move to Gold Coast. If not for Ablett it would've been triple figures.
It's a journey that started in the corridors of Kardinia Park as a wide-eyed son of a club legend and finishes with his very own chapter in the game's history. You could even argue it deserves three.
Learning to kick from the likes of Billy Brownless, Paul Couch and Garry Hocking in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Ablett was drafted as the most-hyped father-son ever at the end of 2001.
Debuting at 17 in 2002, the shaggy-haired forward pocket only took a few moments to find his feet before a goal on the run in game three was solidified as one of his many trademarks.
After a VFL premiership at the end of that season, his poise around goal shone through, kicking 26 and 35 goals from his next two AFL campaigns.
He started to show glimpses through the midfield in 2005 and 2006 all while becoming one of the most damaging small forwards in the game.
But it was the off-season into 2007 where it all clicked and the demands of his teammates to have him work harder on the training track proved dividends.
Ablett exploded to jump from averaging 17 disposals per game in 2006 to 27 in 2007 and become one of the most prolific midfielders in the game in the blink of an eye.
Opponents were in awe of his strength at the contest, his low centre of gravity meant he never lost his feet, he never fumbled, was never flustered and proved untackleable for even the most powerful of midfielders.
Even when they got close his explosion from stoppages, his peripheral awareness and his sidestep put him in rare air. Taggers didn't quite work in the world of Gary Ablett.
His decision-making matched with exquisite ball use made for a deadly combination. His weighted kicking and pinpoint accuracy made the sight of Ablett with ball in hand a leading forward's dream. That's if he gave it to them because his own finishing was top shelf – whether he meant it or not.
There was no other midfielder in the game quite like Gary Ablett.
Already with two premierships, three AFL MVPs, a Brownlow Medal and four All-Australian blazers as a Cat, Ablett departed for the glitter strip ahead of 2011.
For a sport where sides of 22 players are focused on teamwork compared to the superstar model of soccer (11 players) and basketball (five), Ablett rewrote the rules as a Sun.
The whole club was built around him at the peak of his powers. He got even better and won his second Brownlow Medal in 2013.
There was no Jimmy Bartel, Joel Corey, Paul Chapman, Cameron Ling and Steve Johnson to block for him at the Suns. Instead, he carried a bunch of kids and recycled veterans for several years, and if not for a shoulder injury in late-2014, could've included the club's maiden finals campaign.
Ablett's freakish qualities also followed him. Just ask Geelong fans who gave him a standing ovation after his jaw-dropping goal from the right forward pocket at Kardinia Park in 2013.
His match-winning feats also soared to new heights. Take the Suns' season opener in 2014 for example. Ablett kicked three goals in the final term to lift his side to victory from a three-quarter time deficit.
It was a season in which he was also named All-Australian for an eighth straight season.
Due to series of shoulder injuries, Ablett played 36 games across three seasons from 2015-2017 and still won the club's best and fairest in his final season at the Suns from just 14 matches.
With the pull of family too strong, he returned to Geelong ahead of 2018.
While many questioned his impact as captain at Gold Coast, ask anyone at Geelong and they'll tell you his leadership with the younger players has been as important as any. The kids were in awe of him to the very end.
His 2018 season still had him ranked in the competition's top-15 midfielders for disposals before he made the switch to near-permanent forward for his final two seasons.
If anyone needed reminding of his freakish qualities, just quiz the Hawthorn defenders who saw him take a hanger in the goalsquare and dribble a goal from the boundary in the space of 90 seconds on Easter Monday last year.
For 6783 days from his debut to his final act, Ablett has mesmerised fans from all clubs.
And it all came as the son of one of greatest players of the 20th century.
There's every chance he's gone past his father and it's a debate that will be had for decades to come.
But one thing is for certain, Ablett jnr's created his own legacy that will last even longer.
Ablett by the numbers
- 357 games (Geelong 2002-2010, 2018-2020; Gold Coast 2011-2017)
- 445 goals
- 2x premierships (2007, 2009)
- 2x Brownlow Medals (2009, 2013)
- 5x Leigh Matthews Trophies as AFL MVP (2007-2009, 2012-2013 – most in history)
- 3x AFL Coaches Association Champion Player of the Year Awards (2007-2009 – most in history)
- 8x All-Australian (2007-2014 – equal most of all-time)
- 2x Geelong best and fairests (2007, 2009)
- 4x Gold Coast best and fairests (2011-2013, 2017)
- 261 Brownlow Medal votes (most in history)