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Matthew Pavlich: 700,000km and still running


Simon White

Matthew Pavlich's 275 games for Fremantle include 125 outside of WA (not depicted - one game apiece in each of Canberra and Darwin).

Matthew Pavlich's 275 games for Fremantle include 125 outside of WA (not depicted - one game apiece in each of Canberra and Darwin).

There is no shortage of numbers by which you might measure Matthew Pavlich as he prepares to this weekend equal Glen Jakovich's record for the most games by a WA-based AFL player.

There are a pair of sixes (All-Australian jumpers and club champion awards), membership of a 500-club (goals), potentially a one (this year's Coleman Medal) and, yes, for the non-Dockers fans also a zero (premierships).

But ahead of Saturday's home clash with Richmond - the 276th appearance of Pavlich's career - the more relevant figures might be 700,000 (kilometres), 910 (hours) and 38 (days).

That's the approximate distance and time Pavlich has covered and spent in airplanes going to and from the 125 home-and-away and finals games he has so far played for Fremantle outside of WA.

As a further point of reference, former Geelong skipper Cameron Ling, taken 34 picks after Pavlich in the 1999 national draft, retired at the end of last season having played 191 of his 246 games within Victoria.

The impact of frequent interstate travel on an AFL player's longevity remains a topic of debate, mainly because there is no generally accepted way to accurately quantify it.

Jakovich's former West Coast teammate Karl Langdon, for instance, has often insisted that fortnightly flying does not put either of the WA teams at a disadvantage because it's simply a fact of life to which they adapt.

Even games-played statistics can be interpreted in different ways.

Sure, fellow interstate but less-time-flying clubs Adelaide (four), Brisbane and Sydney (two apiece) have multiple 300-game players, while West Coast and Fremantle are still waiting for their first.

But Jakovich would almost certainly have got there if not for a serious mid-career knee injury that had nothing to do with travelling. Ditto for Ben Cousins (238 games for the Eagles), whose West Coast career was first interrupted, then ended by drug addiction at the age of 29.

Still, it's hard to imagine how squashing a large athlete's body - and Pavlich is 192 centimetres and 98 kilograms - into a constricted airborne space after three hours of intense physical activity wouldn't have some impact.

"It definitely has an effect from a wear and tear perspective," Jakovich said this week.

"I think about guys who came into the league about the same time as me and went on to play 300-plus games - like Chris Grant and Paul Williams, but mainly Grant because he was basically the same size as me [193 centimetres, 100 kilgrams].

"He was based in Melbourne, didn't travel as much as I did and ended up playing an extra four seasons and 340-odd games."

Another 300-game key position player, Jakovich's Fox Footy commentary colleague Alastair Lynch, overcame debilitating chronic fatigue syndrome to reach that milestone. But he may never have got there if he hadn't started skipping the arduous Perth-Brisbane trip.

"I would have loved to play in Perth more often but the last two or three years of my career we just had to basically put a line through it," Lynch said.

"Travelling to Perth and back, it would take me probably five days after the game before I started to come any good.

"I've always thought West Coast's premierships have been a little underappreciated in the eastern states given the travel demands placed on them.

"Obviously my physical condition [CFS] played some part in the way flying affected me but for Pav to virtually be on those kinds of flights every second week and miss as few games as he has, that's a pretty amazing achievement."

A teenage Matthew Pavlich runs at a Dockers training session in 2000; by 2004, when Glen Jakovich retired, he would already have two All-Australian jumpers.

Which brings us to another set of Pavlich numbers.

Since debuting in round five of 2000, he has played 275 of a possible 285 games, including a six-season stint between 2002 and 2007 when he did not miss a match.

He has never missed more than three games in a season, a pretty fair effort for a bloke who collapsed in a training session during his first pre-season and was admitted to intensive care.

"Travel is an interesting one - it's a subject that's been brought up a few times," leading sports doctor Peter Larkins said.

"A simple way to look at it is to say that spending three or four hours on a flight after a game, with reduced oxygen supply, is never going to be ideal from a recovery perspective - especially if a player has copped a corky or something like that.

"But Fremantle's medical and fitness staff and Pav have been doing this for so long now that they'd be super-professional and meticulous about it. They would have it down to a very fine art."

In days gone by, the approach to cross-country trips was equally meticulous, if not so professional.

Lynch fondly recalls his Fitzroy days, when Friday night games in Perth were a pre-cursor to beers on the red-eye home and then a weekend spent skiiing at Mount Buller.

Jakovich, meanwhile, remembers injured Eagles miraculously pronouncing themselves fit after Saturday games in Melbourne, in order to skip Sunday rehab and free up some time to spend in the pub.

With the benefits of modern medical science - and barring any significant injuries - Pavlich should be pushing the 320-game barrier by the time his current contract ends in 2014.

He would be 32 by then but such is his current form as a stay-at-home forward (46 goals from the past 10 games), that Jakovich reckons he could go on racking up frequent flyer points beyond that.

As an aside, Jakovich, who played even more interstate games (135) than Pavlich has, once had a fair points balance of his own - until Ansett collapsed in 2001 and he lost the lot.

"I think the most impressive thing with Pav is that he's played as many games as he has, at his size, while spending probably 60 per cent of his time in the midfield," Jakovich said.

"That's a real testament to his resilience but from now on, as this season has proved, there's probably not much of a reason for him to spend anything other than bursts in the midfield.

"Kept to the forward line, he's worth 50 goals a season to Freo for at least the next two seasons and potentially even after that.

"You don't want to say no-one will ever go past him because records are there to be broken. But if he stays fit - and he has done until now - he's going to post a mark that is going to be very hard for any other WA-based player to catch."

7 comments so far

  • We're still regretting the decision to list Ken McGregor as our 17yo pick ahead of Matthew Pavlich. Pav would have made an enormous difference to the Crows and might have just been enough to ensure flags in 2005-06 when we arguably the best team but blew it in the finals both times. If only we had Matt Rendell as our recruiting manager back then! Congratulations to Pav on a great career.

    Crow Boy
    Date and time
    August 16, 2012, 10:45AM
    • I'm a Richmond fan, but I think Pavlich has been an incredible player, who is still probably under-appreciated outside of the West. I think premierships are an over-rated mark of a player's career, since, in a sport with 36 on the field, it's just not possible for one player to drag a team to a GF. So by that logic, I would actually rate Pav a better player over his career than Jonathon Brown, who I think is a bit over-rated by us Vics, probably cos he's such a good Aussie bloke. Brown's best is a bit better than Pav's best; we just haven't seen it often enough due to injury. And I think they've both clearly been better players than Riewoldt - Nick, that is; Jack's obviously better than all of them by a country mile...

      Date and time
      August 16, 2012, 11:07AM
      • Excellent article again Simon.

        Date and time
        August 16, 2012, 11:46AM
        • Thanks Mark - as always, much appreciated.

          Simon White
          Date and time
          August 16, 2012, 3:08PM
      • Makes you wonder why Pav is one of those players that never seems to get injured, much like Adam Goodes. Is he just extremely lucky or good at avoiding dangerous situations ?

        the thinker
        Date and time
        August 16, 2012, 1:09PM
        • The [self-styled / so-called] thinker's question about Pavlich's being "good at avoiding dangerous situations" looks, prima facie, a bit of a slur on a very good player in a position where sissies would not last.

          True, though, that some have questioned Pav's ranking, wondering whether he is up there with the likes of Brereton, Jakovich, J Brown and Carey. But he has played almost all his career in sides which were definitely NOT coached by the likes of Jeans, Malthouse, Pagan or Matthews; some of his coaches looked very lightweight and light-headed.

          Now that he finally has a hard-headed coach, maybe his ranking will rise.

          Good to see him become the first 300-gamer from a WA club, especially as that club will be Fremantle.

          And remember, he had a chance to leave these fruitcakes, and chose to stay. For the post-modern generation, that is spelt L-O-Y-A-L-T-Y - go google..

          40 Degrees S
          Date and time
          August 16, 2012, 5:46PM
      • O Captain! My Captain, what a champion player AND person. If he lived in Melbourne he would be seen as one of the greatest players of all time.

        East Vic Park
        Date and time
        August 16, 2012, 7:28PM

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