St Kilda's Gardiner nearing the end - Sports News - Fanatics - the world's biggest events

St Kilda's Gardiner nearing the end

20/09/2010 04:55:54 PM Comments (0)

He's never been fitter or in better form but Saturday's grand final against Collingwood could still be the AFL swansong for St Kilda ruckman Michael Gardiner.

The 31-year-old is undecided about whether to retire, saying it's a decision still to be made.

"There's a chance, at the age I'm at, but that decision will be made after the game and in the off season," said Gardiner on Monday as his side began its preparation for its second consecutive grand final.

Win or lose, his remarkable resurrection since joining the Saints in 2007 means if he bows out, it will be with head held high.

Amazingly his 14th season in the AFL, since making his debut in 1997 for West Coast as a 17-year-old, has been his most productive, with mind and body both at their peak.

After a career besieged by serious injuries to his knee and foot, which sidelined him for the entire 2007 season, and limited his match tally to 179, Gardiner says he's finally feeling great.

"I've played more games this year than I've ever played in my career in one season so I'm in pretty good shape," Gardiner said.

"I had three or four years where I really struggled and didn't play many games at all at the AFL level.

"I've been able to string a few games together the last two years, so you get that base fitness back which has been good."

Labelled a bad boy back in 2006 alongside then teammate and great friend Ben Cousins due to his alleged links with Perth's underworld and in trouble on and off the field, Gardiner was told he was no longer wanted at the Eagles and his career was in free-fall.

He credits St Kilda coach Ross Lyon and the club for the chance at redemption.

"It would have been pretty sad to end my career at the end of West Coast so I've been able to come here and make some ground up and play some reasonable footy for the club," he said.

"It means a lot to me, and for the rest of my life.

"It's one I'm very grateful for."

The way he has rebuilt his career has impressed his St Kilda teammates.

Midfielder Leigh Montagna described Gardiner's ruckwork as "first class" and said he had brought more to the side than his ball-winning skills.

"When he first came to the club there was a bit of talk but his professionalism's been first class," Montagna said.

"He's obviously had some problems with his body, so to see what he does to get himself up each week has been a credit to himself, he's been a really valuable part of our team."

Gardiner has played in two AFL grand finals and lost both - in 2005 with West Coast, who were beaten by Sydney by just four points, and then last year's heart-breaking defeat by Geelong.

But he's shown he's not a man to dwell on the past.

"They've been close games, both could have just about gone either way but I'm not too worried about that now, I'm just focusing on this week.

"I'm pretty relaxed at the moment and looking forward to it."

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