"That was the difference in the game."
It’s rare to find a player who can legitimately line-up in any position.
Such claims are reserved for legends like Adam Goodes and Matthew Pavlich, not a man who was a steeplechaser before turning his attention to football, but Mark Blicavs is no ordinary man.
There aren’t many players who can play in the ruck and as a key position player, while having the wheels to go in the midfield.
Even in a time where the modern footballer is becoming bigger and bigger, Blicavs stands out because of the incredible athleticism he possesses for a man his size.
Blicavs has been one of Geelong’s most consistent since joining them as a Category B rookie (someone who has not played football for at least three years) at the end of 2012, playing 20 games or more each season.
He debuted in Round 1 2013, despite getting back into football for the first time since he was 14 around ten months prior, when Geelong approached him with the idea.
At the start of Blicavs’ career, anyone could see his freakish athleticism and endurance, but he was still learning the game and his skills were rusty.
But the same work ethic that saw him debut in the AFL so quickly also saw him rapidly ascend its ranks, winning Geelong’s 2015 best and fairest in just his third AFL season.
He built his game around being the third-man up (coming in as the ‘third man’ to hit the ball while the two ruckmen are competing), breaking the previous record for third-man hit-outs halfway through that season.
He also played as a pure ruckman and genuine midfielder, often roving his own ball and even tagging Scott Pendlebury during one game.
He continued his good form in 2016 by finishing sixth in the best and fairest, but a long-expected rule change that banned third-man up threatened to derail everything he had built.
Blicavs even jokingly tweeted that he was retiring the day the rule change was announced.
— Mark Blicavs (@MarkBlicavs) December 21, 2016
While Blicavs later said he’d been expecting the rule change and thought it could make his footy even better, unfortunately the joke he made had some truth to it.
His career was not in jeopardy and he was still easily a best 22 player, but in 2017 his numbers were down across the board.
He faced criticism from the likes of ex-teammate Jimmy Bartel, with people questioning how he could cover so much of the ground but have minimal impact.
The 2018 season saw Blicavs move to full-back, a move made out of necessity with the likes of Harry Taylor and Lachie Henderson injured at the start of the season.
He stayed down back for the rest of the year, routinely taking on and beating some of the best key forwards in the competition.
It soon became clear that Blicavs had found a new role and Geelong had found a new full-back, with the Cats signing him to a five-year deal.
He capped off the season with his second best and fairest, even though he was playing in a completely different position to where he last won the award.
To accompany the 2018 gong, Blicavs has been in the All Australian squad in 2018 and 2019, finished fifth in the 2019 best and fairest, and was the full-back for Victoria in the State of Origin game earlier this year.
Despite seemingly finding a new role, Geelong has still used Blicavs’ flexibility to their advantage.
Last season, he was Geelong’s number one ruckman during parts of the year and in their first final against Collingwood, before being moved onto the wing for the rest of the finals series.
While the effectiveness of these moves can be questioned, it still shows just how versatile Blicavs is.
It is rare to find someone who can play in every position. It is even rarer to find someone who adapts to every role they are given.
Despite not being a student of the game, Blicavs has quickly become a champion of it by taking on everything that comes his way.