Matthew Pavlich has been a true champion of the AFL. If anyone deserves a premiership it is him – but alas, that will never happen.
This season is Pavlich’s last and after six weeks Fremantle is the only winless club.
He has been showered with personal glory during his stellar 17-year career, but it is team success that players crave most dearly.
He got close to the Holy Grail in 2013 when he led Fremantle into the grand final, only to fall short against Hawthorn on the day.
Over the 22-year history of the Dockers, Pavlich has been a near constant.
This Saturday’s clash with GWS will be the club’s 468th since entering the AFL, while for Pavlich it will be his 342nd match. The next most capped player in Fremantle’s history is retired full-back Luke McPharlin, who hung up the boots last season after 244 appearances in the purple.
Pavlich’s resilience has been extraordinary, averaging over 20 appearances each season.
He debuted in Round 5 in 2000 and in the period between 2001 and 2008 he played a club record 160 consecutive games.
Much has been written in recent years about the effect that travel has on players from Western Australia. Many believe it results in players ending their careers prematurely.
That makes Pavlich’s performance even more staggering, as only 14 men have played more career games in the competition’s 120-year history.
The next highest games tally for a WA-based player is held by former Eagles ruckman Dean Cox, who left the game at the end of 2014 having tallied 290 appearances.
If Pavlich plays the full 22 home-and-away games this season, he will bow out with a total of 357 matches, placing him at number 12 all-time.
He grew up in a football-mad family in Adelaide – his father Steve, along with two uncles, played for the West Torrens Football Club in the SANFL.
The younger Pavlich also turned out for the club, however by then it had morphed into the Woodville-West Torrens Eagles.
He nominated for the national draft in 1998 but was overlooked by all clubs. The following year Fremantle utilised the fourth pick to snare his services.
During the early stages of his career the Dockers were the competition’s easy beats. The club won just 19 games in Pavlich’s first three years, including an annus horribilis in 2001 when they managed just two victories.
Throughout the first decade of Pavlich’s career, whenever he came out of contract, rumours abounded that Adelaide and Port Adelaide were circling and willing to part with considerable riches to lure him home.
He was never swayed and remained committed to Fremantle, despite the fact that team success seemed a considerable way off.
When Chris Connolly became Dockers coach in 2002 he pulled a surprise by throwing Pavlich down back.
Despite being just 20 years of age he more often than not won his personal duels with the best power forwards of the day. At season’s end he was named at full-back in the All-Australian team.
He won a further five All Australian jumpers – half-forward flank (2003), centre-half forward (2005), interchange (2006), full-forward (2007), and interchange (2008).
Along with his six All Australian selections, there were six club champion awards, winning the Doig Medal in 2002, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2011.
When Peter Bell stood down from the captaincy at the end of the 2006 season, Pavlich was the natural successor. By the time he handed the reigns to David Mundy at the start of this season, his 189 games as skipper had been bettered by only five other club captains.
He is Fremantle’s all-time leading goal-kicker (678) – he sits at number 23 all-time in the competition’s history – and has topped the club tally on eight occasions, while no other Docket has done it more than twice.
Pavlich has been a leader by example rather than rhetoric.
A thoughtful and measured individual, he recently completed an MBA, and has served as the President of the AFL Players Association for the past two years.
Throughout his career he has been renowned for his work ethic on the training track. There were long periods where he was the club’s only bona fide star.
Despite being the public face of the club for well over a decade, not once did he allow the burden of responsibility dent his passion or love for the game, nor did he ever put a foot wrong off the field.
For many a year, Pavlich was the Fremantle Dockers.
While his star has shone brightly for nearly two decades, one wonders whether his standing in the game would be even greater had he played for one of the powerhouse Melbourne clubs that occupy the sport’s centre stage.
Pavlich took a considerable period after last season to weigh up his playing future. In the end, having led the club to the minor premiership last year, he no doubt felt the window was still ajar with respect to a premiership.
That window has slammed shut.
Once Matthew Pavlich has served the necessary time requirements, he will be immediately ushered into the AFL Hall of Fame.
He will deserve that accolade wholeheartedly, for both on and off the field he has been an ornament to the sport of Australian football.