By FootyRhino.com.au

What if all our choices in life were made for us? Life would be a lot less complicated, or so you’d think. Fremantle Dockers superman Matthew Pavlich had one major decision taken out of his hands a long time ago at the draft… 12 years later his football legacy remains incomplete as a result.

Life is full of decisions.

What electives will I choose at Uni?

Do I stay at my current job or do I search for greater opportunity?

Do I split 10′s against a King?

Should I have one more beer or hit the road?

Do I go and see the 4th Indiana Jones movie despite horrible reviews?

The whole journey would be a lot easier if we had our decisions made for us. Like Matthew Pavlich did on an otherwise ordinary day in September of 1999.

On that day the Fremantle Dockers made the skinny South Australian kid the 4th pick in the AFL draft. He was just 17 at the time, wide eyed, full of talent and with no idea where his football career would take him.

The Dockers had 3 picks in the top 5 of that draft. It was supposed to be the draft bonanza that would lead the Dockers to their first premiership. To join Pavlich they chose Paul Hasleby with pick 2 and Leigh Brown with pick 5.

This guy blew the scouts away at the 1999 draft combine

In hindsight, it turned out to be the draft that netted Fremantle its greatest player. A solid midfielder who peaked as a one-time All-Australian and a sometimes handy big guy who will be remembered most for his fantasy football failures.

12 years on, Pavlich is still Pavlich. He appeared as a bright young key position player, blossomed into a game-changing star and matured into a leader. He sacrificed too. You’d find it near impossible to come across a good football judge who doesn’t think Matthew Pavlich is best suited to playing in the forward line. He kicked 60 goals or more on five occasions including a career high 72 in 2007. He once kicked 9 goals in a game against Carlton, however for the better of his team he’s moved into the midfield when required, sometimes for full seasons.

While not in the class of Judd, Ablett or Pendlebury as a ball carrier, he’s more than handy in the engine room. He’s racked up at least 30 possessions on no less than eight occasions. This year, in his 12th season he set a career high for total disposals with 471, while also peaking with a career high in tackles for a season with 86. He did what he had to do and he did it well.

But let’s take it back a step or two. When Pavlich was plucked from Woodville-West Torrens he was heading to a young club that had never played finals football. Standing at 192cm he displayed all the characteristics of a key forward and had a strong grounding in the art of loyalty, having played for the same SANFL club as his father and uncles.

It took four seasons for Fremantle to break through into September, by that time Matthew Pavlich was already a star. A two time All-Australian and a best and fairest winner by the time he was 21.

The Dockers were blown away at home by an experienced Essendon side that year and wouldn’t taste finals again for 3 years. But Pavlich was still Pavlich.

While his teammates toiled in mediocrity Pavlich was outstanding. There were whispers of a return to play with the Adelaide Crows for a big money offer and the promise of sustained success… but Pavlich was loyal, and he stayed.

He continued to develop playing as a sometimes forward, sometimes defender, unable to cement himself in any particular position because Fremantle needed more than one of him. By now he was one of the best players in the AFL and was recognised as such by adding two more All-Australian jumpers from 2005-2006.

After 11 years of being the joke of the AFL, Fremantle pulled it together in 2006. They won their last nine games of the season to finish 3rd on the ladder, easily their highest placing. With Pavlich playing at centre half-forward the Dockers were a force to be reckoned with. They put a scare into the Sydney Swans before eventually going down by 35 points. Pav kicked 4 goals and had 17 disposals to go with 10 marks. That was the peak.

Seemingly ready to become a genuine premiership threat in 2007, the Dockers fell apart. They slumped to an 11th place finish, sacked their coach in Chris Connolly and hired caretaker Mark Harvey.

All the while Pavlich was still Pavlich. He kicked 72 goals and was All-Australian again, for the 5thtime. He also was awarded the captaincy.

The losses kept mounting in 2008; Pavlich meanwhile added another best and fairest, another All-Australian nod and another 67 goals. His side finished 14th. The rumours continued to circle of a return to South Australia with a massive pay day and the promise of sustained success on the table, but Pavlich was loyal, and he stayed.

Pav has been stuck in football’s version of Groundhog Day

Groundhog Day came again in 2009, another 14th place finish, Pavlich moved into the midfield and averaged almost 22 possessions while kicking 28 goals.

There was a ray of light when Mark Harvey put it all together in 2010. Despite lowly predictions from the football media, the Dockers were a force. Stephen Hill was electrifying, Aaron Sandilands was a monster, and Luke McPharlin had a lovely singing voice to go along with his staunch defensive capabilities. Pav was a forward this time, he kicked 61 goals. Fremantle finished 6th, won a final against Hawthorn and were eliminated by Geelong at the MCG the following week.

That leads us to 2011. Again expectations were high, and again Fremantle fell apart. Injuries crumbled the side, players were dropping everywhere – even Byron Schammer got a call up late in the season. Pavlich was called upon to lead the midfield while David Mundy and Michael Barlow were out and Stephen Hill found it hard adjusting to life as a target. Of course, Matthew Pavlich did his job; he did it well and set the personal records we listed above while saying all the right things.

Freo finished 11th, Mark Harvey rightfully blamed injuries and started talking about 2012. Then he got sacked. It shocked the football world, it shocked Mark Harvey and it probably shocked Matthew Pavlich.

That leads us to now.

Matthew Pavlich will turn 30 this month.

He’s played in just 6 finals. He’s won only 2 of those. He’s never played in a Grand Final. His career winning percentage is 43%.

He’s one of the most decorated players ever, not just in modern football. A six-time All-Australian, a six-time best and fairest winner and a captain of 110 games who has kicked almost 500 goals and racked up more than 100 Brownlow votes. With two injury-free seasons he’ll become the first WA based AFL player to notch 300 games.

So which of those past two paragraphs will we remember him by when he’s gone? And can it be both?

Allowing for a bit of luck with injuries and assuming his skills don’t decline too rapidly, we can expect to have Pavlich around for probably three more years, possibly four. His one elite teammate in Aaron Sandilands has roughly the same career life expectancy.

The ‘window’ that everyone in sports talks about, has never really opened for Pav. Aside from that 9 game streak to end 2006, no one has ever seriously mentioned the Dockers as a premiership contender. All the while Pavlich has been Pavlich.

If he’d been able to make his own choice in 1999, it may have all turned out differently.

So let’s take a quick look back at draft day 1999 and consider a player who did get to make his own decision that day. Jonathan Brown had the option of nominating for the draft or accepting the Brisbane Lions offer to be selected as a father-son pick. Brian Brown played 51 games for Fitzroy between 1976-81 in order to qualify. Jonathan Brown chose to join Brisbane; the Lions getting him for a bargain at pick 30, 26 picks after Pavlich went to Fremantle.

One guy was in control of his football destiny, the other had to board the roller coaster like everyone else.

For 12 years Pavlich and Brown have been plying their trades on opposite sides of the country. They’ve been collecting accolades, leading their sides and are no doubt starting to sprout the odd grey hair.

The career numbers of Brown and Pavlich share a lot of similarities. Let’s break them down, CSI style.

Category Matthew Pavlich Jonathan Brown
Height 192 195
Weight 101 104
Age About to turn 30 Just turned 30
Years in AFL 12 12
Debut Round 5, 2000 Round 5, 2000
Goals 489 498
Most goals in a game 9 10
Captain for 110 games 92 games
Career Brownlow votes 107 106
Most votes in season 17 19
10 or more Brownlow votes 5 times 6 times
Winning seasons last 5 yrs 1 1

 

In some ways they’re not so similar, and Pavlich stands out…

Category Matthew Pavlich Jonathan Brown
Best & Fairest wins 6 3
All-Australian 6 2
Games 256 210
Durability Never played less than 18 games in a season Played less than 16 games in a season 5 times
Played at least 20 games in season 9 times 4 times
Highest disposals 471 (2011) 385 (2009)
30+ disposals 8 0
Highest tackles 86 (2011) 31 (2001 and 2003)
60 goals or more 5 times 3 times

 

Pavlich is clearly the more durable of the two, his body has held up well through the rigours of more than a decade of playing in the AFL. Brown has not had the same success with injuries. Pav has squeezed an extra 46 games out over the 12 years. During his career Pavlich has been called on to play in the midfield for long stretches, his disposal statistics indicate his versatility. The tackle count is surprisingly lopsided, but possibly the most polarising stat is the fact that Pavlich has managed more bags of 60+ despite being lured away from the goals often. Pavlich leads the individual accolades considerably, twice as many best and fairest’s and three times as many All-Australian jumpers.

Then you take a closer look and realise that Brown has some standout stats of his own…

Category Matthew Pavlich Jonathan Brown
Premierships 0 3
Finals played 6 17
Prelim Finals 1 4
Career winning % 43% 60%
Winning seasons 3 7
6 goals or more in a game 9 17
7 goals or more in a game 3 9
14 marks or more in a game 7 14

While the bulk of the winning was done early in his career, Brown’s team success stats are far more impressive. Almost three times as many finals games, of course 3 premierships and a winning percentage of 17% higher than the Dockers skipper.

Finally, let’s check each guy’s regular season stats against his finals numbers…

Statistic Pavlich H&A Pavlich Finals
Disposals per game 18.1 16.1
Goals per game 1.9 2.8
Marks per game 6.0 7.1
Tackles per game 2.3 2.3

 

Statistic Brown H&A Brown Finals
Disposals per game 14.7 14.8
Goals per game 2.4 1.9
Marks per game 7.3 7.3
Tackles per game 1.1 1.4

Both are remarkably consistent performers in regular and finals matches. Pavlich spends more time forward in big games than he does in the home and away season, leading to more marks and more goals.

No more stats, the numbers are there and cannot be changed. The facts don’t lie – Matthew Pavlich has never had team success, Jonathan Brown was blessed by timing, joining one of the best teams in the history of the AFL. He played a monumental part in that dominance, but it never hurts having some A-grade teammates to run with.

Switch the two and the results wouldn’t differ. If Pav was a Lion and Browny wore purple, we could just substitute the names on either side of the above stat boxes.

But we can’t.

This wasn’t supposed to be a comparison between Jonathan Brown and Matthew Pavlich, it just worked out that way. Two guys drafted together, same age, very similar body size, both leaders, both built like Hercules. Who’s been the better player? Both have been brilliant, a legitimate case could be argued either way.

But after looking at all those numbers, two careers worth of outstanding achievements, submitted by two of the elite players we’ve seen in the past decade… it all boils down to one stat.

3-0

Its why if asked to choose between living the career of Pavlich or Brown, most would choose the latter. For Matthew Pavlich, the premiership window has never opened, and we’re not sure if it ever will.

He’s not alone. Gary Ablett senior, Tony Lockett, Paul Roos, Chris Grant, Robert Harvey, Paul Kelly, Nathan Buckley, Garry Lyon, Matthew Richardson… all modern greats who never tasted the ultimate success.

If he retired tomorrow, Matthew Pavlich would be the greatest Docker, one of the most decorated players we’ve seen and will probably have a career in politics or business waiting for him. Being the proud clubman he is he’d probably be the first one running onto the ground whenever the Dockers win that first elusive premiership, however old he’ll be.

With a new coach in Ross Lyon and a decent crop of young stars growing alongside him, there’s still a chance Matthew Pavlich could fill that one remaining black spot on his football resume.

After years carrying teammates on his shoulders, making excuses for his purple posse, picking up the slack, shuffling around from forward to back to midfield to forward to midfield, Matthew Pavlich deserves a little help. He deserves that chance at football immortality.

There’s a breeze coming from somewhere.

Let’s hope a window is ajar in Fremantle, while Pavlich is still Pavlich.

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