SCOTT Pendlebury's exquisite skills inspire awe reserved for a select few.
Think the Matrix-like senses that buy the Collingwood skipper time and space where there appears none; or the over-the-head handball that inconceivably releases a teammate; or the perfectly weighted left-foot delivery that caresses, rather than hits, a teammate's hands.
But for all his cool-headed genius Pendlebury owes his greatness to something less glamorous – sheer hard work.
The Magpie maestro is perhaps the best-prepared player in the game – the pro's pro – as illustrated by his peers voting him in at No. 4 in the AFL Players' Top 50, brought to you by Mars.
Pendlebury's professionalism has also drawn deep admiration from Pies coach Nathan Buckley and senior assistant Robert Harvey, both of whom were extraordinary midfielders with fanatical work ethics.
In an interview with the AFL Record in 2014, Harvey declared: "I haven't seen anyone prepare like Pendlebury."
The Saints legend cited Pendlebury's meticulousness in his physical conditioning, skills work, diet, etc. – all of which has helped him play at least 21 games in the nine seasons since his debut year.
Scott Pendlebury's honour roll
|214 games||141 goals|
|2010 premiership||Norm Smith Medal 2010|
|All Australian 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014||133 career Brownlow votes|
|Club best and fairest 2011, 2013, 2014, 2015||AFLCA Player of the Year 2013|
When the superstar from Sale reached his 150th game in 2013, Buckley told reporters: "When he succeeds … there's no satisfaction around it. He's always driven to be better than he was yesterday or this morning and that attitude has got him to where he is."
The teenage Pendlebury chose his role models well, largely basing his approach on two of the game's most respected players: Brisbane Lions champion Simon Black and St Kilda star Lenny Hayes. He also attached himself to Collingwood's hardest trainer, Paul Licuria.
"I took on board (that) if you put the work in during the week, it's just a matter of putting your plan in place because you know you're going to play well," Pendlebury told the AFL Record.
Also an elite basketballer at junior level, he idolised Michael Jordan. Hayes is one of many who believes Pendlebury plays football like a point guard.
"He never panics in traffic, he always connects with a teammate, always sets them up and never makes a poor choice," Hayes told the AFL Record.
"If you could take anyone's decision-making and finishing ability, you'd take 'Pendles' and (Gary) Ablett."
Norm Smith medallist Pendlebury also has a celebrated history of performing when it counts most. An amateur statistician recently found that of those who have played at least 15 finals since 1963, Pendlebury boasts the best record, named among his team's best players 81 per cent of the time – just clear of official Legend Kevin Bartlett.
"Everyone lifts for finals so the intensity goes up, but the game gets stripped back to basics and actually becomes simpler … And (I) play a basic, simple game all the time," Pendlebury explained.
"I've got the same focus and preparation whether it's round one or a grand final."
The AFL Players' Top 50 is compiled with the support of the AFL Players' Association.