When you’re the son of Gary Ablett Senior, arguably the greatest to have played the game of AFL, you’d expect to be carrying some added pressure. That’s exactly the case for his son Gary. Yet despite the extraordinary expectations placed upon him, he somehow managed to surpass them, providing his case to hold the title of the GOAT (Greatest of all time). A young Gary Ablett strolled into the Cattery in 2001 as a long haired 17-year old from the small country town of Moriac, after being snapped up at pick 40 as a father son selection in the 2001 national AFL draft. Since then, Ablett has played a total of 246 games at the Geelong Cats and 110 games at the Gold Coast Suns.
The little master made his debut in round 1 of the 2002 season, picking up 8 disposals and 4 marks in a loss to the bombers. Despite possessing the talent not many players do, Ablett took a few years at the top level to really get going. However, when he did, it was with a bang! His 2007 season saw him move to a permanent midfield role in which he averaged 27 disposals and 1.2 goals per game, elevating himself to the elite level. His stellar season saw him lead Geelong to a 44-year drought breaking premiership against Port Adelaide, winning the highly regarded award of a best and fairest in a premiership year. On top of that, Ablett added to his resume with a players and coaches MVP, whilst also finding himself as the ruck rover of the 2007 All Australian team. Ablett’s form only built from there, averaging 29 and 34 disposals in his 2008 and 2009 seasons respectively, whilst maintaining over a goal per game. Despite being highly fancied yet missing out on the Brownlow medal in 2007 and 2008, Ablett didn’t have to wait too long, claiming his maiden Brownlow medal in 2009, joining the game’s elite. The 2009 season also saw Ablett win his second AFL flag, along with numerous other individual accolades.
2010 again saw a successful season for Ablett and the Cats, before it came to an end at the hands of Collingwood in the preliminary final (albeit a 40 disposal Ablett performance). However, every Cats fan’s worse nightmare was revealed only a couple of weeks later. Gary had made the decision to join new expansion club the Gold Coast Suns on a 5-year multi-million-dollar contract, making him the clear highest paid player in the league. Despite not having the team success at the Gold Coast which he had at Geelong, Ablett did his individual legacy no harm. Gary was named the inaugural captain of the Suns, whilst also adding to the resume. Through his time at the Suns, Ablett picked up his second Brownlow Medal (2013), joining rare company, made the All Australian team another four times (taking his total to 8) and won another two players MVP awards (taking his total to 5) – all this whilst carrying a team who not once played finals. Towards the back end of his stint at the Suns, Ablett began to succumb to injury. A 2014 shoulder injury ended his season early, preventing him from taking home a third Brownlow Medal after being well ahead before injury. Gary continued to struggle with his shoulder injury through the coming years at Gold Coast, yet still put up incredible numbers against the odds. Although being struck down with injury, Ablett remained as clearly the highest paid player in the competition. Despite not having the highest paid playing contract in the league, his partnership with Nike and Gatorade elevated his earnings well above his peers. Ablett running towards goals in the Nike Tiempo football boots are a sight to see, thus creating substantial deals with Nike.
As the 2017 season came to an end, rumours emerged of Ablett’s desire to return home to Geelong, with the lure of family sparking Gary’s interest. And the rumours were true. Ablett signed with Geelong in October 2017, making for a fairytale finish to his career. Even more mouth-watering for Geelong supporters was the potential midfield dubbed “The Holy Trinity”, consisting of Ablett, Patrick Dangerfield and Joel Selwood. Things picked up where they left off for the Geelong great, collecting 39 touches and kicking a goal in his side’s 3-point win against the Melbourne Demons. Ablett impressed by averaging 29 disposals for the season before Geelong were disappointingly eliminated in the elimination final to the Demons. Ablett’s 2019 season saw him move back to where he started, fulfilling a more permanent forward role. Whilst still averaging over 20 disposals a game, Ablett booted 34 majors for the year, eventually making the All Australian squad. Yet again however, Geelong were knocked out in the finals, crumbling to the eventual premiers Richmond in the preliminary final.
All this has led to season 2020. His 19th and final season as announced by himself earlier in the year. The little master has left it all out there this season, highlighting that you can’t teach experience. The 36-year-old has wound back the clock on numerous occasions, frequently causing the opposition headaches as soon as he lays hands on the Sherrin. Whilst battling family issues throughout an already challenging year with the events of a global pandemic, Gary has been all class. Gary returned in round 18 after missing 10 matches of the season after heading home to look after his son – who suffers from a rare degenerative disease. Despite all the chaos of 2020, he awaits his potential third premiership this weekend against the Tigers at the Gabba. After watching Netflix documentary ‘The Last Dance’, Gary’s story reminds me of the great Michael Jordan in his last season at the Chicago Bulls. Will it be the same fairytale finish for Gary as it was for Jordan? We’ll find out this weekend. But one thing is for sure, Gary will always be as one of the greats of the game. His dedication, commitment and class to AFL world won’t go unnoticed. For years to come, kids will continue to head down to their local park with a Sherrin in hand, mimicking a classic Ablett snag from the boundary!