The highly talented but injury-prone and controversial Michael Gardiner is unfortunately best remembered as Ben Cousins’ partner in crime, rather than as an All-Australian ruckman.
West Coast careerEdit
Originally from Albany, Gardiner was selected with the first pick in the 1996 draft after West Coast had acquired the pick in a complicated trade involving Shane Bond, Brayden Lyle and Ian Downsborough.
Gardiner made his debut early in 1997, played 10 games for the season including the semi-final loss to North Melbourne, and picked up a Rising Star nomination. Over the next few years he began to take over the number 1 ruck position from Ryan Turnbull, playing 15 games in 1998, 17 in 1999 and 15 in 2000 and leading the club in hitouts in each year.
In 2001 Gardiner had arguably his best year for the club, playing 20 games and averaging nearly 19 hitouts while forming an effective ruck combination with the young Dean Cox. Early in the year he kicked a career-high 5 goals in a derby. An injury-interrupted 2002 was followed by a strong 2003 season, where Gardiner finished second in the league in hitouts and was named on the bench in the All-Australian squad. He also won a Ross Glendinning medal in 2003, albeit in controversial circumstances as the official voters had chosen Ashley Sampi but been overruled by Glendinning himself.
Sadly, injuries prevented Gardiner from continuing his improvement. He missed most of the 2004 season with a knee injury, one of a spate of PCL injuries to ruckman that prompted a change to the ruck rules. In his absence, Cox took the number 1 mantle and, of course, went on to become probably the greatest ruckman of the modern era.
Gardiner struggled through 2005 with further knee issues, and with Mark Seaby emerging as Cox’s backup Gardy played the finals series as a key forward, where he had limited impact. His selection in the forward line ahead of Quinten Lynch remains one of the more regrettable decisions of the lead-up to the 2005 grand final, Gardy having little impact in the close loss.
In a horror 2006 pre-season, Gardiner was sent to Claremont indefinitely due to poor on-field and off-field performance at about the same time that Cousins was being stripped of the captaincy for leaving his car parked on Canning Highway and performing an impromptu biathlon. Strong form with the Tigers and an injury to Seaby opened the door for Gardiner to play three games mid-season. Unfortunately, an alcohol-affected car crash shortly after that third game was the last straw and he was again suspended indefinitely, this time never to return.
Despite his chequered off-field history and ongoing injury concerns, St Kilda were sufficiently desperate for a ruckman to acquire Gardiner in return for a slight pick upgrade.
St Kilda careerEdit
Gardiner went on to have a reasonable career as a Saint, playing 52 games including the drawn 2010 grand final (but not the replay, which he missed after injuring a hammy) and apparently cleaning up his act significantly off the field. Gardiner retired at the end of the 2011 season after 181 AFL games.