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Saints-Cats game no finals guide: Ablett

By Sam Lienert 29/06/2009 03:35:22 PM Comments (0)

Experience has taught Geelong superstar Gary Ablett that winning an AFL mid-season blockbuster means next to nothing come September.

Ablett says the Cats players are keenly anticipating Sunday's Etihad Stadium clash of the titans against St Kilda, the first time two unbeaten clubs have met so far into an AFL season.

But he says while the match will be a big event in its own right and a welcome challenge, the outcome will count for little in the bigger picture of the two clubs' premiership chances.

It is a lesson the Cats learned the hard way last year, when they downed Hawthorn in a similarly-hyped round 17 encounter, only to suffer a shock loss in the grand final.

"You had the same scenario last year with Hawthorn, when there was all the talk about us meeting them," Ablett said.

"It's just another game to us.

"It's going to be exciting because it is going to be a big game, but we'll be doing nothing different this week to what we do every other week."

Still, Ablett said the chance to play a form team in such an anticipated match was an opportunity the Cats relished.

"It's very exciting, it's something the boys are looking forward to, we love a big match and love a challenge," he said.

"We'll sit down and have a look at the video this week, what they're good at, what they're not good at and the boys are really looking forward to it."

Significantly, the Brownlow favourite is positive about his own form and fitness.

After some injury "niggles" in recent weeks, Ablett said improved fitness played a big part in his best-afield 36-disposal game against Port Adelaide on Sunday.

"I just felt like I had a lot more power," he said.

"I've had a few niggles in the last few weeks and haven't got out on the track as much as I've liked.

"I got to get out there a bit more this week, so it was good to get a bit of run in the legs leading into the game."

His 21 kicks and 15 handballs was also the first game this season in which Ablett had more kicks than handballs.

There had been speculation, particularly after he had five kicks and 24 handballs against Fremantle in the previous round, that he was protecting a groin injury.

Ablett dismissed that theory, saying it was more about the tactics of opposition sides, although he was happy to reverse the ratio on Sunday.

He acknowledged he was most damaging when he could break into space and kick, but said teams had greatly improved this season at blocking space and stifling run.

"I don't think it's just me personally, I think it's everyone in the league," he said.

"Teams are really playing a lot of this zoning, corralling, making the player kick the ball or handball, they don't want players really breaking the lines.

"I think you'll find that's happened a lot in footy and it's something we're training and working to beat, because it's an important part of our game."

He said the Cats had concentrated heavily on ways to combat those tactics in recent weeks, with an eye to perfecting them for the finals.

"We've really looked at the things that have changed the most and made sure that we've worked really hard at either beating them or even doing those things ourselves," he said.

Meanwhile, St Kilda remain cautiously optimistic about Max Hudghton's availability for this Sunday's clash.

The club have announced that scans on Monday morning showed that the key defender has a right ankle ligament sprain.

"It's a fairly good sign, and we're optimistic, but there's a long way to go this week," said Saints football manager Greg Hutchison.

"We'll treat him and see how he's going through the week."

There were initial fears that the 32-year-old's season, or even his career, might be in doubt when he was stretchered off in the first quarter of the Sunday twilight game against Richmond.

Hudghton had gone to spoil a pack mark and landed badly on his right ankle.

An ambulance was on standby at Etihad Stadium to take him to hospital for x-rays, but remarkably he was back on the field late in the second term.

While Hudghton also started the second half, he finished the game on the bench and was on crutches in the changerooms afterwards.

It was only Hudghton's third senior game this year, with a pre-season calf muscle injury putting him out of action for several weeks.

Fellow key defender Matt Maguire would be a candidate for a senior recall if Hudghton is not fit for Sunday's match.

Maguire has suffered even worse injury luck than Hudghton and has not played for St Kilda since round seven last year.

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