AFL top 100: Geelong grand final preview

Eighty-nine years after Round 1, and 45 years after Round 2, comes the third round of Richmond-Geelong grand finals, this time in the unfamiliar setting of Brisbane’s Gabba.

With the score one-all in the previous two battles and Richmond a warm favourite with the punters but not with the Footy Record’s experts (four out of five go for the Cats), it has the makings of another great game between the felines.

To be played in front of the smallest grand final live audience since at least 1927 but possibly the largest TV audience of all time, the game has plenty to offer as a spectacle: a high number of seasoned champions, a number of rising champions and the usual mix of quality players at various stages of their careers.

There will be no duds in either team. Some players will be below par and be beaten on the day, others will start or build on their reputations as big-game performers, and some players will do extraordinary feats.

Hopefully, there will be no injuries, the retiring players will all be able to bow out gracefully and the three chosen umpires (Matt Stevic, Simon Meredith and Craig Fleer) will all perform at their best.

Certainly, lack of experience will not be an excuse, as Matt Stevic will be umpiring his 401st game, taking him to level with Stephen McBurney as the fifth most experienced umpire of all time.

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It will also be his eighth grand final, making him equal with contemporaries Brett Rosebury and the retiring Shaun Ryan and two behind the legendary Jack Elder. For Simon Meredith – one position below Stevic on the all-time games umpired ladder – it will be his sixth grand final.

Craig Fleer will umpire his first grand final after starting his career in 2012 and already having four finals under his belt. The grand final will be his 141st, taking him to level with 1930s umpire Eric Hawkins.

One player who has put his hand up to announce his swan song is Geelong champion Gary Ablett.

Gary Ablett lines up a kick

(Photo by Adam Trafford/AFL Media/Getty Images)

Considered by many to be the greatest player of all time, Ablett certainly has done it all. The AFL top 100 game players and goal scorers comprise only 0.778 per cent of all the 12,847 players to have played the game at the highest level, and Gary Ablett figures prominently on both lists.

It will be his 357th game, which will take him into outright 13th place on the top 100 AFL game players list, ahead of Carlton’s Bruce Doull. As a goal scorer, he will retire as the 75th greatest of all time.

Universally recognised by coaches (three champion player of the year awards), players (five Leigh Matthews awards), umpires (two Brownlow Medals) and the two clubs he played for (six best and fairests), Ablett was also a club captain for six years and club leading goal kicker on three occasions. He played in two premierships and is an eight-time All Australian.

Although premiership number three would be a nice fairy tale ending to his career, it will add little to his recognition as a legend in the game.

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Another player widely tipped to end his career is Geelong stalwart Harry Taylor. With two premierships and two All Australian selections, Taylor has been an outstanding back man for the Cats but has been called on many times to fill a position on the forward line.

As a result, he will finish just two goals short of being in the elite top 100 goal kickers of all time at the club, but his 280th game will see him tie with Andrew Mackie as the ninth greatest game player at Geelong.

Joel Selwood’s 34th final (the third most of any player) helps explain why he is already number 64 on the AFL all-time game players list. Selwood, who took over as captain the year after the Cats’ last premiership is already Geelong’s longest serving captain and no doubt would like to add the accolade of premiership captain to his CV.

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Apart from the aforementioned Harry Taylor, four other top 100 Cats will improve their games-played rankings in the grand final: Tom Hawkins, Gary Ablett, Mitch Duncan and also Cameron Guthrie, who will match the Geelong tally of Tom Hawkins’ dad Jack – a star at the Cats in the 1970s.

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