Scarlett's end talk of the town
Matthew Scarlett after Geelong won the 2007 grand final. Photo: Vince Caligiuri
THE deal was that when Geelong lost, Matthew Scarlett would front the waiting media and explain why. When the Cats won, the full-back got to vanish. Scarlett made the arrangement at the start of 1997 and, since then, his club has played in three premierships and won a lot more games than it has lost. The full-back was a smart, insightful player in more ways than one.
Geelong lost on Saturday night, and its season ended. But this time it wasn't Scarlett who did the talking: almost as if trying not to be noticed he led his beaten side down the race, quietly raising a hand to supporters at the end of what turned out to be his 284th and last game for the club he joined 15 years ago, as a skinny father-son pick who had only just begun playing in defence.
Scarlett has more to discuss than most players - three flags, six All-Australian guernseys, a best and fairest award - but talking about himself has never appealed to him. It seemed right, then, that it was Andrew Mackie who emerged from the rooms on Saturday night, to talk about the end to his side's season, but more about his teammate.
''He's the heart and soul of the footy club,'' Mackie said.
''I can't imagine what's going through his head. It's just disappointing from our point of view. Anything other than winning a flag wasn't going to do Matty justice. It's not easy.''
Scarlett, 33, will be remembered at Geelong for some very broad deeds, over a very long time. He joined Geelong weighing 70 kilograms, a father-son draftee chosen the year the rules were changed, forcing clubs to use a third-round pick instead of their final choice. No matter: the son of John was a bargain, either way.
He was an Essendon fan growing up but quickly became one of his club's most loyal players, famously sticking up for Mark Thompson when the coach's job was challenged at the end of 2006. Later, he urged his teammates to adapt to new coach Chris Scott's changes as soon as they could.
''We knew we had to tinker our game plan a little bit - less handball and kick the ball a bit longer - so I think it wasn't just me. All the senior players knew that we had to change, and we really embraced it.'' On the ground Scarlett took on star forward after star forward: fiercely, aggressively, with never-ending focus and a mean streak. He liked those days. ''I prefer it the way it used to be,'' he told The Sunday Age at the start of the year. ''I prefer to have a certain match-up all day and go toe-to-toe with someone. Also, there is much more running now, which I don't enjoy.''
At the same time he was something slightly new: a full-back who didn't simply defend but won plenty of the ball himself and used it in ways defenders weren't necessarily known for then, tidily. In recent years he was spared the big jobs, entrusted to organise others, to zone off, to make sure the Cats got moving.
His career delivered plenty of micro-moments too, none more famous or consequential than the ''toe-poke''. It was Scarlett who nudged the ball to Gary Ablett in the centre square late in the 2009 grand final, with scores tied against St Kilda; Ablett's long kick landed in the goal square, where Paul Chapman's snapped goal broke the deadlock. ''To this day I'm not sure why I didn't bend over and pick the ball up,'' Scarlett later said. ''It was either going to pay off or I was going to look like an idiot.''
Scarlett will leave an enormous hole in the Geelong back line when he vanishes for good, with plans to get into building and perhaps keep playing locally.
Mackie didn't mind doing the talking for him on Saturday night. But he thinks that as much as Geelong will miss Scarlett, the Cats will survive and thrive because of what he has left them with. ''Such is the man, Matty Scarlett, he doesn't want it to be about him and that's just his career, he goes through and does his bit and speaks when he needs to and doesn't want to make it about him. He's an absolute great, a real Geelong person that we absolutely love,'' he said.
''We're going to miss him, but he's taught us guys who have been fortunate enough to play with him so much. He's irreplaceable, but he's made all of us better players. We've got three premierships, a lot of us, because of the work Matty Scarlett's done.''