Gary Ablett came into the AFL burdened with level of expectation no father-son has in the history of the game.
That he was able to shrug off the label of being the ‘Son of God’ and become a superstar in his own right speaks volumes for his character. He achieved things his brilliant father never could, with two premierships and two Brownlow Medals to become the best player of his generation.
His success reached such a level that the ‘Junior’, which had been attached to his name to distinguish him from his famous father, became redundant (to all except Dwayne Russell) as he transformed from Little Gaz, to simply Gaz.
It was a rare event that wrenched Ablett from Geelong at the end of a dramatic 2010 season. Just playing for a club, albeit one in the midst of a premiership window, wasn’t enough for the champ, he wanted to find out if he was a leader.
It was clear among the overload of premiership heroes at Geelong, that that opportunity wouldn’t afford itself. It seems bizarre given their respective personalities that for everything Ablett the younger achieved that his father didn’t, the old man was able to captain Geelong and he wasn’t.
So he departed the club, and into a new world where the money was great, the spotlight was turned down and the opportunity to influence the team was multiplied. For the Suns, they got the best player in the game and a someone who they could build their club around.
Fast forward six years from Ablett’s move and he finds himself at a crossroads, something not uncommon for those of his clan.
Firstly, there was the optimistic request for a trade back to Geelong this year. His wife Jordan was finding life on the Gold Coast difficult and Ablett felt after a couple of injury-riddled years that perhaps the time was right.
So blindsided were both clubs, that neither couldn’t have possibly put together a deal, even if they wanted to. Suns chairman Tony Cochrane was adamant that Ablett would see out the remaining two years of his contract.
Then there were reports of disquiet among his team-mates that he wasn’t there when pre-season training resumed and then finally, there was his decision to relinquish the captaincy.
Despite everything he has achieved, the burden of his surname has again re-appeared. The manner in which his father as well as his brother Nathan approached their careers, plus perhaps, Ablett’s own departure out of Geelong, has led to the inevitable ‘well he is an Ablett, you know’.
That’s code for a lack of responsibility, and prioritisation of the individual over their team. The suggestion is that Ablett has abdicated his responsibilities with the Gold Coast and that the pursuit of a move back to Geelong is about him getting his own needs met.
But if Gary carried Smith as a surname, none of this would be even relevant.
There is also constant criticism about his leadership. Ablett may not be Luke Hodge when it comes to getting players to run through brick walls for him, but when it comes to winning the ball fair and square, and creating something out of nothing, he has excelled. Much like the club song at his former home, he has ‘played the game the way it should be played.’
If there is one fault that Ablett has, it has nothing to do with his father’s bloodline. Where Gary Snr carried a surplus of ‘mongrel’, Gary Jnr has arguably suffered from not having enough. To a certain extent, they have reflected their eras, and there is a good argument that if their careers had been flipped in terms of timeline, neither would have prospered.
It was that competitive drive, and innate physicality, that made Gary Ablett Snr the most damaging player when he was in his 30s. He kicked an almost unbelievable 444 goals after his 31st birthday.
It’s stats like that which make Ablett fans, particularly those of the blue and white hooped variety, believe that young Gary can still be a damaging player for years to come, despite the fact he is already 32.
The drums are beating for Ablett to return to Kardinia Park in 2018, at which point would be approaching his 34th birthday and have 300-plus games under his belt.
It seems improbable that a club which has just disposed of another Brownlow Medallist, Jimmy Bartel (aged 32) and a reigning All Australian in Corey Enright (34), would consider it appropriate to recruit someone of Ablett’s age in 2018.
But that’s where the Ablett name works in young Gary’s favour. It’s not just the longevity his brilliant father showed, but it’s that touch of fairytale his homecoming would bring.
Gary Ablett is a big fan of American basketball, and he would have watched LeBron James’ emotional NBA title success with the Cleveland Cavaliers earlier this year, thinking ‘Why Not Me?’.
He will have to wait a year to realise that dream, and a lot has to fall into place for a return home to occur, but you get the feeling that in anybody can make it happen, it’s him.