Where do you even start with Brent Harvey? On which aspect of a career spanning three decades does one focus? There is his incredible aerobic fitness, his dedication to training, his pace, his goal sense, his tenacity, his durability, his reliability, his innate ability to divide opinion with his personality. Put simply, Brent Harvey is a complete package of skill, toughness and footballing smarts that you can fit right in your pocket.
This week, though, as Harvey prepares to play his 427th senior AFL game, it his longevity and his ability to maintain his form that is very much the focus.
Four Hundred and Twenty Seven games. It's more than most us can even wrap our head around. Just set aside the argument about whether Craig Bradley's 500+ SANFL/VFL/AFL games should get more recognition for one moment, and just ponder what kind of achievement 427 games in this era of modern football really is. At the age of 38, Harvey is playing over 100 minutes of football every week at a time when the game is played faster than it ever has before. And he's not playing like a 38 year old just making up the numbers and occupying a safe spot in the forward line either.
Comparing players from different eras can be troublesome, but of the four players to have reached 400 VFL/AFL games it could be argued that Harvey has passed the mark at a level of input unmatched by the other three. Dustin Fletcher certainly couldn't claim the same, having almost literally limped over the line.
Michael Tuck and Kevin Bartlett, while still invaluable members of their team, were not the ball-winning midfielders that they were earlier in their careers. Tuck had become a dependable back flanker, while Bartlett was a stay-at-home forward pocket. Both players, understandably, averaged less disposals in their final season compared to their career average, by four and 10 respectively.
Harvey, meanwhile, averages less than one disposal this year compared to his career average. Not only is he winning the ball in the middle of the field, he is also on track to kick more goals this season than any other in his career.
When it comes to Brownlow votes, of which Bartlett gained a great many, Harvey has it covered as well. Bartlett went very close to winning the Brownlow a number of times, with top five finishes in 1969, 1974, 1977 and 1978, but Harvey has picked up 27 more career votes than Bartlett. He will also likely poll votes in a few games this year, meaning he has polled votes in every season since 1998. Bartlett wasn't able to poll a vote in the last two seasons of his career.
It's not a competition, though. Obviously any player that can reach 400 games has a great amount of talent, but it is worth appreciating the form that Harvey is enjoying at the moment.
It is also worth appreciating just how long Harvey has been at it. Here's a little bit of perspective:
Brent Harvey made his AFL debut on September 1st, 1996, in the final home and away round of the season. That year's highest selling single in Australia, Los Del Rio's "Macarena," had been in the charts for less than month, while "Wannabe" by the Spice Girls had been in the charts for only one week.
Harvey's debut came only one year after that of Adam Simpson who has since been out of the game long enough to establish himself as a coach of a grand final team. When Harvey's own coach, Brad Scott, made his playing debut for Hawthorn, Harvey already had one game under his belt.
For those at Fox Footy planning "Retro Round," Harvey would be an ideal mascot, being the only current AFL player to have played in the 90s. When the second most experienced current player, Matthew Pavlich (who plays his 350th game this weekend), made his debut Harvey had already played 69 games, played in two grand finals for one Premiership, and won an EJ Whitten medal for best on ground in the last ever AFL State of Origin game.
It is well known that Brent Harvey has his "haters." For some people he just rubs people the wrong way. What can't be denied, however, is that he is one of North Melbourne's all time greats and one of the game's all-time greats.
He has won more Syd Barker medals for North's best and fairest player than anyone else in the club's history (2003, 2005, 2007, 2008, 2010). His 511 career goals sits him equal with John Longmire at second on North Melbourne's career goal kicking table. He has been named as an All-Australian player on four occasions (2000, 2005, 2007, 2008). He also three top 10 Brownlow medal finishes (2001, 2007, 2008).
So enjoy watching Brent Harvey this weekend. His is a remarkable achievement and regardless of your personal opinion of him, he is a champion of our great game. He is also at the top of his game and, barring any unfortunate injuries, he should play again next year and go on to play 450 games. That is a mark that may well never be matched.