Cats still good enough to win a premiership: Ablett
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Cats still good enough to win a premiership: Ablett

The fairytale quashed for 2018, Gary Ablett is already looking forward to pre-season training and still believes Geelong have what it takes to secure a premiership before his time is up.

The champion midfielder returned to the Cats this year after seven years with Gold Coast, intent of again tasting the ultimate success, something he had not enjoyed since the second of his two flags, in 2009.

Gary Ablett had a team-high 27 touches against the Demons but was unable to conjure any magic.

Gary Ablett had a team-high 27 touches against the Demons but was unable to conjure any magic.Credit:AAP

Ablett had assessed the Cats' list, complete with stars Patrick Dangerfield, Joel Selwood, Tom Hawkins and emerging youth, and felt there was no reason why a flag was not attainable.

"Yeah, I did. I think we have the team to do it and Scotty [coach Chris Scott] touched on it in the [team] meeting – we have a lot of areas that we need to improve. We are going to work on them over summer, but I believe we have the group that can win a premiership," he said.

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That thought was shared by at least one senior official but the Cats' hopes were again crunched by a poor start, with the Demons' five-goals-to-nil first term ultimately being the difference in their 29-point elimination final win on Friday night.

Ablett, 34, was as stunned as anyone in the Cats' dressing room by their poor form, but the 321-game veteran refused to declare this season had been a failure.

"I don't like to use that word ... there are mixed emotions, obviously, you play footy to play in finals and, ultimately, to have a crack at the premiership," he said.

"It's a tough loss, I know how disappointed all the boys are, it was an opportunity we haven't made the most of, but you can't take away anything from Melbourne. They have been a great side all year and they were really great out there."

There is much for the Cats to assess over summer, including their style of play, for they do not apply the frontal pressure the top clubs do. They will also need to debate what they want through the trade and draft period, with Essendon great Matthew Lloyd declaring they have "huge decisions" to make.

The benefits of a combined winning margin of 235 points over battlers Fremantle and Gold Coast in the final two rounds, and their ongoing struggles after a bye, will be analysed. So, too, must be there their poor starts in finals. They were goalless against Richmond in the opening term of last year's qualifying final, kicked 3.1 against Sydney a week later, but then had 1.2 in the losing preliminary final against Adelaide. They were also goalless in the opening term of the 2016 preliminary final against Sydney.

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The latest defeat leaves Scott with only three wins from his past 12 finals since the 2011 premiership.

"Melbourne were very good in the contest in the first quarter which we knew they were going to be. It was an area of the game we had to fix up for the next three quarters. Unfortunately, we gave them the lead that we did – it was always going to be tough coming back from that," Ablett said.

The Cats' inability to handle the pressure early was obvious. They failed to hit targets and missed regulation shots at goal, although Ablett said he had confidence the Cats could rebound later in the game. They threatened but too many errors and Joel Selwood's undisciplined free kick for throwing Jake Melksham to the ground off the ball, just as Tom Hawkins was lining up for goal, hurt.

"I think we were the best fourth-quarter team in the league in the regular season. We just can't afford to give teams leads like that. It's something we need to look at and fix up going into next year," Ablett said.

The Cats had seven debutants this year, including emerging star Tim Kelly who is contracted for next year but has failed  to sign a contract extension, and remain a list in transition. They are pursuing Western Bulldogs' free agent Luke Dahlhaus but have much work to do to emerge from eighth spot on the ladder to become a premiership force, with club chiefs admitting they cannot afford to bottom out.

While they need help in the ruck and Harry Taylor's future is questionable, Ablett said midfield depth was not an issue.

"I think that is actually one of our strengths. We have a lot of guys that can go through there. We played a lot of younger guys through there this year to make sure they were getting some experience. I don't think that's an issue," he said.

"I think we were right up there in terms of contested ball this year, clearances – we didn't start the season well but we finished the season well."

Ablett played in 19 matches this season, averaging almost 30 touches and booting 16 goals, although he seems unable to play as a permanent forward, a role many thought he could do. He had a team-high 27 touches against the Demons but was unable to conjure any magic.

While there were suggestions he played "safe" at times through the year, in terms of his kicking and tackling, the latter because of his shoulder issues, he regularly found the ball, including having 32 touches and three goals against Hawthorn in round 21.

Asked to assess his form, Ablett replied: "I am probably not going to answer that question. I think I need to go away and just think about things. My goal this year was to get out and play as many games as I possibly can and play my role for the team. I think my year was a bit up and down."

The dual Brownlow medallist is contracted for next year and said he would resume training early, admitting this defeat had hurt.

"It will. It's hard. Obviously, we will go away now, we'll have a break, but I don't want to be away from the club for too long. I want to make sure I am getting back in there and doing everything I possibly can to make sure I am ready to go next year," he said.

Jon Pierik is a sports writer with The Age, focusing primarily on AFL football, cricket and basketball. He has won awards for his cricket and basketball writing.