In the past 12 months, however, I’ve probably been one of your harshest critics.
I’ve openly questioned whether you’ve put enough focus on the “team” aspect of your game, not only on the ground, but off it.
Take nothing away from your own preparation; we all know how meticulous that’s been. But have you been able to get the best out of those around you? Have you been prepared to sacrifice elements of your game for the good of the team?
Last year when you came back to Geelong you still got plenty of the ball and still had some outstanding games, but I couldn’t help but think you didn’t quite fit.
We heard murmurs that you perhaps weren’t embracing where you were at in your career, and for someone who’s been at the top for so long, it’s understandable getting older would be tough to take.
When your coach declared you’d be spending more time up forward this season, I didn’t know if you’d be able to make the transition from one of the main men in the Cats midfield to a somewhat “lesser” role.
In the pre-season, Chris Scott spoke often about wanting to apply more pressure in the front half. I wondered if your shoulder injuries might mean you’d struggle to adapt.
Would you have the confidence to lay a big tackle when required? Could you put your body in front of an opponent to free up a teammate?
I was happy to cop any criticism that might come with holding those opinions of you, because you hadn’t done much to prove me otherwise.
This season though, Gary, you’ve been nothing short of outstanding.
Unlike many others, I’ve loved the harder edge. It might get you into trouble from time to time, but you’ve also showed a willingness to put yourself in uncomfortable situations.
Because of a desire to hunt the opposition more often it means your game is now about more than just kicks, marks and handballs.
Your numbers are considerably down on 2018 – from averaging almost 30 disposals a game to a tick over 20 this season.
Those stats won’t win you another Brownlow, and probably not another best and fairest.
But while you might not agree, in many ways I think you’re now a more complete player than you’ve ever been.
We know your footy IQ is as good as anyone’s, but now you’re not just thinking about where your next possession is coming from – you’re thinking about how you can make your teammates better.
You’re also hitting the scoreboard more often with 24 goals from 12 games this year, compared to 16 majors from 19 games 12 months ago.
You’ve managed to embrace change when others in your position either wouldn’t be capable or wouldn’t want to.
Your role now is possibly even more important than the role you played in that dominant team of the late 2000s, given you had so much more talent and experience around you back then.
The way you’re playing is one of the main reasons Geelong has a real shot at claiming another flag, despite looking a fair way off the pace last year.
Having said that, even without another premiership, I think you’ve enhanced your legacy like never before.
With so many question marks at the start of the year about your body, mindset and where the Cats were heading, I thought this might be your final season.
Suddenly the end doesn’t look as close anymore. Barring injury, you deserve to play on.
That opinion might not matter a whole lot to you. You wouldn’t have got where you are without having confidence in yourself.
But, Gary, if nothing else, your season has reinforced that old adage that you never write off a champion. It’s a mistake I won’t make again with you.
Two-time AFL premiership captain and columnist for The Age.