by Lisa Albergo reporting for AFANA from Chicago
Opposition forwards will be relishing the start of the 2013 season. In recent weeks, it was widely speculated in the media that 2012 would be Matthew Scarlett's last season. This was confirmed after the Cats lost their Elimination Final to Fremantle, with the ace defender later making it official.
In 1997, Scarlett made a deal with the club. When the team lost he would front the media. When the Cats won, the quiet, unassuming Scarlett would be nowhere in sight. After his final game Scarlett, who prefers not talking about himself, simply gave a quiet wave to supporters as he led his beaten team off the field. It was left to teammate and fellow defender Andrew Mackie to emerge from the rooms to talk about Scarlett. Mackie described Scarlett as the heart and soul of the club and the loss as disappointing saying, "Anything other than winning a flag wasn't going to do Matty justice. It's not easy.'' Despite the huge hole in defense which will be left with Scarlett's absence, Mackie believes the club will "survive and thrive" because of Scarlett's legacy, ''Such is the man ... he doesn't want it to be about him ... he does his bit ... and speaks when he needs to ... He's an absolute great, a real Geelong person that we absolutely love. We're going to miss him ... He's irreplaceable, but he's made all of us better players. We've got three Premierships ... because of the work Matty Scarlett's done.''
When Scarlett himself finally made a statement, it wasn't to the media but to supporters. He said he had relished his 15 seasons with Geelong but felt it was time to devote more attention to his family. He said "... being an AFL player is a great lifestyle. However there are other people that are impacted by the demands of the game ... among them are my family. My wife Milla, and children Tayla, Charlie, Oliver and Harry, have been amazingly supportive. I couldn't have enjoyed the career that I have had without their unwavering support and understanding. I am looking forward to spending time with them and enjoying many ... things that I had to pass up ... I have friends for life from among my teammates, past and present. I will look back ... with great memories and I look forward to enjoying more good times ... as a past player. I have also been lucky to have had many great coaches ... They have all made an impact on me as a player. I would like to give particular thanks to Chris Scott, Mark Thompson and Brendan McCartney for what they have done for me and the club ... They were the most influential coaches in my career and I will always be grateful for that."
Scarlett, 33, joined the Cats under the father-son rule via the 1997 National Draft as a skinny kid just beginning to play defense. Scarlett unsurprisingly cited the 2007, 2009 and 2011 Premierships as career highlights, but said that success "... would not have been possible unless we all worked together along the way". He grew up supporting Essendon, but became a fiercely loyal Cat. He defended former coach Mark Thompson when the coach came under fire in 2006, then urged teammates to embrace the changes brought about by Coach Chris Scott. Of the changes he said, ''We knew we had to tinker our game plan ... less handball and kick the ball a bit longer ... All the senior players knew ... we had to change". Scarlett went on to earn a reputation as a fierce and aggressive defender with a "mean streak". Although he preferred a single match-up and less running, he accepted the way the game has changed over the years. He became a player who could not only defend but win plenty of the ball himself to help launch the Cats into attack.
There are many moments and brief passages of play in Grand Finals which become immortalized: Wayne Harmes chasing down his own kick just before it goes out of bounds in 1979, Leo Barry's game-saving mark in 2005, Barry Breen's point in 1966, Michael Long's run through the midfield and goal in 1993. Scarlett's "toe poke" of the ball during the dying minutes of the 2009 Grand Final when scores were tied will surely be added to the list. That little nudge of the ball went to Gary Ablett in the center. Ablett kicked the ball to the goal square where a waiting Paul Chapman goaled to seal the win against the Saints. Of that moment, Scarlett said, ''To this day I'm not sure why I didn't ... pick the ball up. It was either going to pay off or I was going to look like an idiot.''
Just as there are those moments, there are also many great players who never played in a Premiership or won a Brownlow Medal. While Scarlett has three Grand Final wins to his name, he only gained 31 Brownlow votes during his illustrious career.
Best and Fairest 2003; runner-up 2001, 2004, 2005
All-Australian 2003, 2004, 2007-09, 2011
International Rules 2002-03
AFL Rising Star nominee 2000
Premierships 2007, 2009, 2011
Pre-season Premierships 2006, 2009
Source: theage.com.au, AFL Season Guide 2012, author notes
Article last changed on Saturday, September 22, 2012 - 9:17 PM EDT