GEELONG, AUSTRALIA - JUNE 28: Gary Ablett of the Cats celebrates a goal during the 2019 AFL round 15 match between the Geelong Cats and the Adelaide Crows at GMHBA Stadium on June 28, 2019 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Dylan Burns/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

Let’s be honest – the Gary Ablett of 2019 is not quite the same player we came to know and love earlier in his career.

‘Gaz’ or ‘The Little Master’ as he’s affectionately known, is now 35 years old, with 343 games under his illustrious belt. Whilst he’s played an admirable 88% of game time across 22 matches this season, Ablett’s role has become one of nuance rather than precedence.

Since returning to his old beloved Kardinia Park last year, Ablett has been considered and played as more of a handy forward and occasional midfielder. The son of an all-conquering VFL finals superstar, Gary Junior wasn’t born to play supporting roles.

At his peak, Ablett was frequently the main difference between match-ups in the engine rooms of both Geelong and then Gold Coast, regardless of the scoreboard.

Such was his supreme level of classy output, it resulted in Brownlow Medals in 2009 and 2013, eight consecutive All-Australian selections from 2007 to 2014 and two Geelong premierships in 2007 and 2009. He was widely considered the best footballer of all time.

So, which Gary Ablett exists today and which version of him plays in this Friday night’s cut-throat semi-final against West Coast? And what can Geelong do to maximise the use of a player once considered The Greatest?

We’ve only recently seen glimmers of that upper echelon of skill and nous which Ablett previously displayed on a regular basis.

In last Friday’s Qualifying Final against Collingwood, Ablett’s influence was minimal with 17 disposals, eight tackles and no score from 90% game time.

Despite some defensive pressure acts, realistically (and statistically) it was a modest result. Had The Little Master added just two goals, the Cats could’ve won.

Perhaps Ablett’s not an ideal forward and occasional midfielder after all.

There may be some validity in suggestions he should play less quantity, more quality pure midfield.

Surely, Ablett retains the innate ability to turn a match on its head within short, sharp periods of natural brilliant execution.

It’s that X-factor Cats fans hoped for upon his long-awaited return to Geelong. And ultimately, it could be what the Cats need to help win this week’s final and potentially another premiership.

Meanwhile, let’s look back at some of Gary’s Greatest Finals:

2007 QF vs North Melb: 32 disposals, 2 goals – Cats win by 106 points

2007 PF vs Collingwood: 31 disposals, 7 tackles, 1 goal – Cats win by 5

2008 QF vs St Kilda: 35 disposals, 1 goal – Cats win by 58

2008 PF vs Bulldogs: 27 disposals – Cats win by 29

2008 GF vs Hawthorn: 34 disposals, 5 tackles, 2 goals – (Haw by 26)

2009 QF vs Bulldogs: 31 disposals – Cats by 14

2009 PF vs Collingwood: 34 disposals, 2 goals – Cats by 73

2009 GF vs St Kilda: 25 disposals, 6 tackles, 1 goal – Cats by 12

2010 SF vs Fremantle: 36 disposals, 4 tackles – Cats by 69

2010 PF vs Collingwood (Ablett’s last game for Geelong prior to joining Suns): 40 disposals – (Pies by 41)