Watching Gary Ablett Jr roam around the MCG last week against my beloved Bombers without a care in the world was a beautiful and cursed sight to behold.
It’s cursed because he was a major reason why Essendon lost, but beautiful because he’s the king of the jungle again.
When he injured his shoulder in 2014, many were calling him the best ever. And since that point people have said he was cooked.
In 2015, he probably came back too early at the start of the season.
In 2016 and 2017 he had continual issues with his shoulder, plus his confidence in his own game wavered.
And last year he wasn’t fully fit after hurting his hamstring against West Coast in Round 2.
So there are mitigating reasons why he hasn’t returned to his peak. But he has shown in bursts that he’s still got the fire to be the best. But some were saying that his body can’t deliver what it used to.
And they are right in many ways. His body hasn’t been fit to play the high-octane football that his eight-season masterclass showed us from 2007 to the latter part of 2014.
But somehow the man has rediscovered his energy levels and the game is much better for it.
The AFL needs players like Ablett and Nat Fyfe to be the showstoppers they can be.
People love seeing the best strut their stuff and it brings more people through the turnstiles and watching on TV screens.
So we bemoaned the fact that he was playing in the forward line in the pre-season simply because we didn’t know the repercussions.
Was he going to be a fringe player, gaining ten or 12 disposals a match while having little say on the outcome of matches?
The way he and Geelong have started the year has silenced those concerns.
Much of the kudos has to go to coach Chris Scott, who was under a lot of pressure entering this season.
It wouldn’t have been easy to tell Ablett that his days as a midfielder were over. Or to tell Joel Selwood that playing as that crashing midfielder wouldn’t help his longevity.
But Scott was courageous enough to make the changes and look at the dividends.
He has managed to revitalise the forward line, and the Cats look like a serious contender.
He has allowed Tim Kelly to become the foil for Dangerfield in the midfield.
So what does this mean for Ablett’s Brownlow hopes?
He has a wonderful chance to win it again. He has probably accrued at least six votes over the last three rounds and you could make a case for him polling nine in an ideal scenario.
And it’s a good sign that the media have recognised his efforts as the umpires are swayed by public opinion.
And we all know he is a proven vote-getter – even last year he polled 14 votes yet finished just 11th in the club best and fairest.
If he manages to have another six or seven stand-out performances, why couldn’t he poll 26-30 votes for the year?
He has the potential to average 20-25 disposals and kick two to three goals a game. It’s a highly unlikely scenario at his age, but never say never.
It would also make him the oldest ever winner of the Brownlow at 35 years of age, which would cap a legendary career.