FEW ARE more revered in Geelong's history than Matthew Scarlett.

The unofficial chief of the changerooms through the Cats' three flags from 2007-2011, Scarlett remains at the club as assistant coach in charge of the backline.

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He was there when Gary Ablett (2001) and Joel Selwood (2006) arrived, saw Ablett leave and return, and will be in the coaches' box for the pair's respective 350th and 300th milestones against Gold Coast on Saturday.  

He shares his memories of two of Geelong's greatest with AFL.com.au.

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Scarlett on Ablett

The shaggy-haired son of a legend walked into Skilled Stadium at the end of 2001 leaving Scarlett and co. in awe of his natural talent.

But where was Ablett's legacy going to sit in the Geelong line-up?

Gary Ablett in action against Essendon in round one, 2002. Picture: AFL Photos

"I thought he was going to be mainly a forward when I first saw him. Like a really, really good small forward," Scarlett told AFL.com.au this week.

"I didn't think he'd develop into an unbelievable midfielder. 

"You could see in those first few training sessions that he had the Ablett freakish skills and the talent to be anything.

"He didn't have quite the work rate on the training track or the thirst for training, but you could see deep down he could be anything and he obviously turned out to be arguably the greatest player to ever play our game." 

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Debuting as a 17-year-old, Ablett played 12 AFL games, combined with a VFL premiership in 2002.

Despite averaging a goal a game in his first three seasons, Scarlett points to a turning point across 2005 and 2006 when he took the first steps to becoming an elite midfielder.

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Ablett went from averaging 16.8 disposals in 2006 to 26.7 in the 2007 premiership season.

"Once he got his opportunity in the AFL side, you could see he was going to need a bit of a push along from his teammates and his coaches with his appetite for training," Scarlett said.

"It was around that 2005-06 period, a few of his teammates, they didn't get stuck into him, but demanded more from him at training.

You could see out at training he was probably looking for a few shortcuts at times, trying to get around a few things without doing all the work.

- Matthew Scarlett on Gary Ablett

"We needed him to step up but also wanted the best for Gary. He responded in a really good way."

Ablett's kicking challenges with premiership (two AFL, one VFL) teammate Steve Johnson are folklore at the Cats and Scarlett couldn't escape them.  

"Off-field he was good at all the games; I still remember table tennis and basketball being two of them," he said.

"We had a lot of competitive players on our list back then, and he and Stevie (Johnson) would have kicking challenges and spend hours and hours after training trying to kick balls into bins and through doors and we'd be watching them go at it and at it.

"Stevie was trying to tell Gaz he was the best, and Gary was showing Stevie he was the best."

Gary Ablett and Steve Johnson walk from the field after a win over the Western Bulldogs in 2010. Picture: AFL Photos

Ablett enjoyed one of the great individual seasons in 2010 – finishing four votes shy of his second Brownlow Medal. He averaged more than two goals and 30 disposals a game during the home and away season and was best-on-ground in a losing preliminary final with 40 disposals.

But there was more at play behind the scenes as he grappled with the decision to ultimately leave for Gold Coast at season's end, while his relationship with coach Mark Thompson deteriorated.

"I personally didn't ask Gary what his plans were at the end of the year, I was just making sure he was concentrating on that year and he was," Scarlett said. 

"It certainly was a bit of a drain on the footy club with his relationship with 'Bomber' (Thompson), and the media attention took a fair bit out of the football club.

"You could see there was clearly tension between the two, you could sense it. It was more a pain in the arse, really.

"It was a private matter for Gary and 'Bomber' had the club to think about."

Matthew Scarlett bumps Gary Ablett off his kick in round 10, 2011. Picture: AFL Photos

Scarlett sensed a different Ablett when he returned seven years later – as an eight-time All-Australian and with another Brownlow Medal to his name – ahead of 2018.

"He speaks up a lot in meetings and he's obviously always seen the game really well and he's teaching that now to our younger boys," he said.

"You can still tell the young guys are in awe of Gary because he still performs at a really good level. He used to be pretty quiet meetings but now he's explaining."

But is he better than his father, AFL Team of the Century member Gary senior?

"I thought his old man was the best player I've ever seen so Junior wouldn't be far behind. He's in the top five players to ever play in my opinion. I’d probably take the old man and I've told Gary junior that, he's happy with that. He's just underneath him," Scarlett said. 

Gary Ablett snr talks with Gary Ablett jnr after a game against Brisbane in 2007. Picture: AFL Photos

Scarlett on Selwood

With two All-Australians to his name by the end of 2006, Scarlett was a strong judge of talent. He distinctly recalls the kid from Bendigo with a questionable knee arriving at the Cattery.

"I remember his first training session," he said.

Joel Selwood looks for an option against Melbourne in round three, 2007. Picture: AFL Photos

"I remember looking over, we were doing some positional stuff and I was doing some stuff with the backline guys.

"The midfield group were doing some stoppage work and he was competing around the footy and he was towelling up our guys in there.

"And it was 'Lingy' (Cameron Ling), Jimmy Bartel, Joel Corey, James Kelly, we had some A-grade midfielders and he was showing them up.

"I remember being really excited we'd drafted someone who could help the team straight away and he certainly did that."

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Winning a premiership and the NAB AFL Rising Star in his first season, Selwood gained competition-wide respect with his competitiveness.

And it was rubbing off on his teammates long before he was named captain in 2012.

"He was driving the standards at training… a guy in his first year," he said

"You could see his leadership potential and it remains to this day.

"It was more through his training actions at the start, obviously he's become a lot more vocal now.

"The way he trained and lifted our group on how competitive you've got to be at training.

"If you weren't on, he would kill those other players around the footy and it wasn't just the midfielders. It was the whole club."

Selwood has gone on to match Scarlett's six All-Australian blazers – including three as captain. With three flags, four AFLPA most courageous titles and three best and fairests, his accolades speak for themselves.

But Scarlett said the current Geelong captain had always exhibited a special trait that inspired his teammates.

"You say the same about Gary (Ablett), but when you walk out onto the MCG for a big final and you've got Joel Selwood there who was willing to do anything for his teammates and his footy club, you felt really confident," he said.

"If there was a loose ball and a 50-50 ball you were sure he was going to win it."

Matthew Scarlett tackles Hawk Sam Mitchell as Joel Selwood hunts the ball in round two, 2010. Picture: AFL Photos

Now with 190 games to his name as captain, Scarlett said his leadership work off-field was growing with every season.

"He's really caring with his teammates with the time he puts in developing those emerging leaders and guys who come through," Scarlett said.

"Even during the isolation period, he did a lot of work with (first-year midfielder) Cooper Stephens.

"He wants the footy club to be in a great position when he retires, and he wants them to take over the footy club.

"People see the fierce competitor, but they probably don't see the caring and nurturing side." 

Joel Selwood shares a laugh with teammates at training in 2019. Picture: Getty Images/AFL Photos

And for everything said on-field, what is Selwood like when the players are letting their hair down?

"When he has a beer, he fires up, he just doesn't do it very often," Scarlett said.

"He's the ultimate professional and prepares himself physically and mentally really well. He certainly didn't do it as much of us silly blokes did."