OF course the last of his 357 matches will be a Toyota AFL Grand Final, just as it was for a man many consider to be his only rival for the title of the game's greatest. 

Of course he played a key role in his team winning the match which gave it the right to play off for a premiership, kicking two goals in a quarter of a preliminary final – just as that other guy had done 35 years ago. 

Of course there's probably another season in the 19-year-old tank, as there was with that other person who booted 56 goals in the last of his 17 seasons. The truly great know that one less game is infinitely better than even one too many. 

Gary Ablett in 2020. Leigh Matthews in 1985. 

01:17 Mins
Published on

The fans vote Gary Ablett: Check out the highlights of your Man of the Match

Gary Ablett is the Carlton Draught Man of the Match after his heroics against Brisbane on Saturday night

Published on

"No second thoughts," Ablett said Sunday on the Gold Coast, a day after his Cats had beaten Brisbane to progress to Saturday night's Grand Final against Richmond. 

"The game doesn't get easier, and for me over the last couple of years my body hasn’t been able to do what it could do in my younger years." 

While the Ablett body may not be in its prime, the Ablett mind is – both in its ability to officially call to an end to a career which will almost certainly be acknowledged with instant legend status in the Australian Football Hall Of Fame but also in its reading – and more importantly seizing of moments at key points - of crunch matches. 

Ablett effectively broke Brisbane on Saturday night, his two goals in the third quarter establishing for the Cats a dominance which could not be overcome. Matthews booted two goals for Hawthorn in the final quarter of the '85 preliminary final against Footscray. The Hawks wouldn’t have won through to that year's Grand Final without those two goals.

07:19 Mins
Published on

Highlights: Brisbane v Geelong

The Lions and Cats clash in the second Preliminary Final

Published on

Of course there has been self-doubt in recent years for Ablett. Again, the greats realise it is OK for that to both happen and be acknowledged publicly. 

"I think there is always a bit of self-doubt, it is not an easy game, and the older you get the harder it gets on your body, and for me, it was about setting those little goals from week to week and making sure that I knew I wasn't going to be the best player every week,  that's not what it was about, it was about playing my role within the team," Ablett said. 

"One of my strengths is when I get the ball, I do something with it. Just making sure if I was touching it 10 or 12 times, that I was able to have a real impact. I think all players go through that. There's obviously an amount of years when you are in your prime." 

WHAT TIME DOES THE AFL GRAND FINAL START? Everything you need to know about the historic decider

Numbers. When it comes to Ablett, there's a lot of them that have meaning as he approaches the end. Matches played, as of next Saturday night: 357 (only 12 players in the history of the game will have managed more). Seasons in the game: 19. Seasons between Grand Finals: 11. Brownlow Medals: two. All-Australians: eight. Best-and-fairests: six. 

Of Ablett's matches, 110 came in seven seasons, the first seven of AFL life for Gold Coast. He returned in 2018 to where it had started in 2002, six years after his equally famous father of the same name retired as a Cat. 

"When I got back to Geelong, I always said it was about winning a premiership," Ablett said. "I have been back three years, we got to a prelim final last year, had a good opportunity to win that game and I had a decision to make at the end of that year – do I go again?

"And the reason that I did was that I believed we had the list to go all the way, so yeah, we get a shot this Saturday." 

After Geelong lost its qualifying final to Port Adelaide, Ablett's last game could have been against Collingwood in a semi-final. It might have been against Brisbane last Saturday night. It now will, certainly, be Saturday night against Richmond.

Just 33 days ago, he left a COVID-19 quarantine hub on the Gold Coast. For the previous two weeks, his training sessions had been confined to a stretch of grass that ran roughly 45 metres by 40 metres. 

He emerged to play in round 18, then the three finals, last Saturday's game the best since he's been back. 

In keeping with his 19-year focus, Ablett won’t want any personal referencing this week. But he knows it is inevitable, and in sync with his content state, he is prepared to admit there is very little that would be considered normal in his build-up to this weekend's match. 

00:42 Mins
Published on

The Little Master kicks two in a matter of minutes

Gary Ablett kicks a pair of classy goals for the Cats

Published on

"My week will be a little bit different to what it has been for most games throughout my career – one if it is a Grand Final, and also knowing it is my last game as well," he said.

"There is no doubt I will really enjoy the week, take it all in, but make sure I prepare and do everything as I normally would. I need to focus on the things I can control." 

Not even the all-time greats get to script their final scene. Matthews' Hawthorn lost the 1985 Grand Final by 78 points and he was carried off by teammates in tears. Midway through the next year he began a coaching career which extraordinarily became the virtual off-field equal to his on-field one. 

Ablett said on Sunday that while he does not have clear sight on what lies ahead for him he is ready, and happy, for the future. 

Of course, no one is ruling out the possibility of a Norm Smith Medal in game no.357.