Cameron Smith is chaired off Suncorp Stadium - but is it for the last time? Picture: Bradley Kanaris/Getty
Cameron Smith is chaired off Suncorp Stadium - but is it for the last time? Picture: Bradley Kanaris/Getty

GOAT v GOAT - which champion made the right call?

They started their senior careers in the same year but when it came to retirement decisions, Cameron Smith and Gary Ablett headed to the north and south poles.

This week's AFL and NRL grand finals have become a study in retirement decisions and what works best for players, the clubs and most importantly, the grand final campaign as the two codes prepare to farewell two of their greatest players.

Melbourne Storm champion Smith and the fabulous Geelong superstar Ablett both started their illustrious senior careers in 2002 and may end them on the same weekend, but their exit routes have been as different as the two codes.

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Ablett went public early, triggering a quieter time, while Smith has said nothing, sparking a media blitz.

Ablett knew last year that Father Time had tapped him on the shoulder.

In fact, we have known Ablett would finish this year since he announced, in typically understated fashion, on the Exclusive Insight website on October 3 last year that "this is it ... season 19 will be my last".

There will be any number of farewell stories on the little master this week but generally his swan song story has been allowed to flicker quietly in the background of the Cats' progression to the grand final against Richmond.

Smith chose a different course, keeping his decision to himself - if, indeed, he has made one at all.

Cameron Smith is chaired off Suncorp Stadium - but is it for the last time? Picture: Bradley Kanaris/Getty
Cameron Smith is chaired off Suncorp Stadium - but is it for the last time? Picture: Bradley Kanaris/Getty

Smith may have had the best possible intentions but the instant he decided this season would not be about him it actually became all about him.

That's the irony in the avalanche of speculation stories about Smith's likely-possible-looming retirement after Sunday's grand final.

By not wanting to hog the limelight he has triggered a massive public debate.

That's not a criticism of his decision. It's just the way it's worked out.

By not making a decision on his future, Smith is standing out as much as Bruce Springsteen in front of the E Street Band while Ablett - genius that he is - is sort of blending in with other brilliant Geelong senior statesmen such as Pat Dangerfield and Joel Selwood.

Gary Ablett has had a farewell tour to remember. Picture: Quinn Rooney/Getty
Gary Ablett has had a farewell tour to remember. Picture: Quinn Rooney/Getty

 

No matter what fate awaits them this weekend, it is fitting that Ablett and Smith bow out in superb form.

Smith's long-time teammate Billy Slater, who was born on the same day as Smith, has said the reason Smith has been able to push beyond his 37th birthday was due to the fact that "the things you lose, he hasn't got".

Because he has never been a particularly fast runner, he hasn't got pace to lose. Yet his quickness between the ears is as decisive as ever.

Ablett and Smith are fascinating studies in the way they absorb, rather than confront, the most abrasive forces.

Against the Brisbane Lions on Saturday night, Ablett was as hard to hold as a slippery eel.

Just when Brisbane's defenders thought they had him cornered he would wriggle or shake or morph into plasticine and slip through their grasp.

Smith can pull off a bellringing tackle when he wants but doesn't crash through the pain barrier for the sake of it.

In codes that can tear you to pieces in a couple of seasons, they both still look a million dollars despite playing for nearly two decades. 


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