As we get closer towards the end of the season, the speculation about where any, as of yet unsigned players or free agents may be next year intensifies. As part of our 2017 trade and free agency coverage we have come up with the 10 most wanted players in the AFL.
We kick off the series with our 10th most wanted player, and will release the remaining nine over the next two weeks.
Although clubs may not be clamoring for our first up most wanted player, the interest and continued speculation surrounding a possible return home for Gary Ablett sees him ranked as our 10th most wanted player of 2017.
Ablett is arguably the greatest player in the history of our game. ‘The Little Master’, as he has come to be known has had a career other players can only dream about.
A two-time premiership player and dual Brownlow Medallist, Ablett has been selected in the All Australian side eight times, named the AFL’s MVP on five occasions, and won the same amount of club best and fairest awards – two at Geelong, and another three at the Gold Coast.
Having just been inducted into the 300 game club, Ablett has averaged 13.2 kicks, 12.1 handballs, 3.1 marks and 4.4 tackles per game in his 16 seasons of senior football.
And despite being written off by many earlier in the year after two injury interrupted seasons and an uncharacteristically lacklustre performance in Round 2, Ablett has answered his critics in decisive fashion and is now being tipped to earn a record equalling ninth All Australian selection.
In his 12 appearances thus far this season, Ablett has averaged 18.7 kicks, 13.7 handballs, 3.2 marks and 5.8 tackles, which are all above those of his career. He is ranked first in the AFL for entries inside 50, second in disposals, fifth in clearances and seventh in effective disposals per game.
At 33-years of age Ablett is still one of the best players in the game. If he can stay relatively injury free he should be able to play on for another two seasons.
Although currently contracted to the Suns until the end of 2018, Ablett asked the club if there was a possibility of him being released from the final two years of that contract to return home, but his request was flatly denied.
Yet it appears obvious the former Cat wants to finish his career where it began some 16 years ago, and will ask the club again at the end of this season to release him from his contract.
It also seems, at least the majority of people at the Cattery want him back; and why wouldn’t they? Geelong are expected to be thereabouts come September so their so called ‘premiership window’ is open, and the club’s supporters would be salivating at the prospect of a midfield made up of Dangerfield, Selwood, Duncan and Ablett.
Many are also of the belief that should the Suns again deny his request, Ablett will simply retire and walk away from the game.
Now while the Suns will want to keep Ablett, and if they can’t, at least demand a high price from Geelong, their hands maybe tied given the circumstances.
There is little doubt the AFL would love to see Ablett go back to Geelong, despite whatever they may say to the contrary in the future. He won’t be around when and if Gold Coast will be challenging for a premiership anyway, and the attention the move would make, plus the amount of bums on seats and merchandising possibilities is going to please head office.
Why he stays
Although the possibility does appear to be slim, Ablett has never said he is unhappy at the Suns and may not even ask for a release. There is also the chance that if as most suspect, he does ask again and is refused, Ablett does as he did last year – respects the decision, honours his contract, and continues playing for the Suns.
Of course, too, is the fact that despite reports to the contrary, the Cats are not prepared to take him back. However, that outcome seems even less likely than the two above.
Why he goes
Ablett’s request to be released from his contract last year was not made in haste, and it is very doubtful his position has changed in the last 12 months or so.
Making a return to the Cats even more palatable is the fact that after years of being in an unsuccessful side, he could have the chance of bowing out in a year or two with another premiership beside his name.
He wants to go home, the Cats want him, and the Suns unfortunately are stuck between a rock and a hard place. If they refuse Ablett’s probable request, he will retire and the romantic finish for one of the game’s greats will never have the chance to occur. They will become the AFL’s version of the Grinch who stole Christmas, even though they have every right to do so – but who wants to be a Grinch?