In 2010, the son of God left the building.
Gary Ablett Junior, the greatest player in the game’s history in the minds of many Geelong supporters, confirmed their worst fears and left the Cats in order to become the face, body and soul of the AFL’s new foray; the Gold Coast Suns.
Gazza left the club he loved, and that his brother and father loved, in order to commit to what he described as a “fresh new challenge” on the Gold Coast with what was a record contract to match. Thus, Geelong saw God’s back, as the number 29 packed his bags and went north. So, what was it like for Geelong to be abounded by their favourite son in favour of the Suns?
The very next year, Geelong tasted premiership glory for the third time in five years, without their champion and best player in Ablett and multi-premiership coach Mark Thompson, who sensationally quit the club the year before in the aftermath of a falling out with Ablett, coupled with some personal issues. The Cats defeated the Magpies by 38 points to confirm their place as one of the great sides of modern football, in a Grand Final largely overshadowed by Meat Loaf’s rendition of his greatest hits, that now cannot be listened to quite the same.
Meanwhile, the son of God watched on from the sidelines as he carried a football club no one was yet to love, to a wooden spoon. Make no mistake, Gary Ablett Junior has achieved all that there is to achieve in the game in his time at the Gold Coast Suns – from an individual perspective – a second Brownlow Medal, an All Australian captaincy and four more club champion honours. But while he remained the best player in the game in his time in the Sunshine State, it just was not enough. He had to be the leader he just was not comfortable being, the captain he did not really want to be, and the game ambassador that was really not in his repertoire. And the whole thing just about ended in tears. Ablett literally ran from microphones and cameras with endless questions around his largely unexplained unavailability for games. Where was he running to?
Home. He was coming home.
Sure, there were misty eyed Cats fans who have spread the word of hope for years in the Gary Ablett Terrace at Kardinia Park, but in last year’s trade period it became a reality. The prodigal son is coming home, so round up the fattened calf – we are having a feast! G. Ablett was back in the famous blue and white hoops and everything was seemingly right with the world again. But why on earth is he back? What sent him here?
Gary Ablett played 110 games for the Gold Coast Suns over seven seasons - in that time his winning record was a shade over 30%. He never played on a Friday Night, nor in front of a Gold Coast home crowd that cracked 25 thousand. He rarely graced the hallowed surface of the MCG, but most importantly Gazza never played in a single final. He may well have achieved everything there was to achieve in football in his seven years in the football desert, individually, but that is not why he plays football.
“I play to win.”
Gary has come back to win again, but not just games – “we play to win premierships and that’s what I’ve come back for” – is what the prodigal son declared last year upon his return. Fast forward to August this year, and the Little Master still believes it “we do believe that (we can win the premiership), we know we have got the team to do it.”
Of course they have the team to do it – they’ve already done it. Of the Cats’ 2007-2011 golden era, some precious gold still remains at Geelong; Gary Ablett has won two premierships, Captain Joel Selwood has won three, Tom Hawkins and Harry Taylor have won premierships, Mitch Duncan is another premiership player and of course Coach Chris Scott also held the cup aloft in 2011.
This group knows how to win premierships, but it is not the best team in the competition anymore. However, that does not mean it cannot win it. Not because of Gazza’s straight bat of “Any team in the eight can win the premiership. I truly mean that so we’ve just got to make sure we’re playing some good footy” but because of their point of difference that can elevate them above all else – The Holy Trinity.
Dual Brownlow Medallist Gary Ablett, fellow Brownlow Medallist Patrick Dangerfield and captain and probably should-be-Brownlow Medallist Joel Selwood or “Dangerwoodlett” as they are so eloquently known, can take this group to the promised land. The trio have all had fine seasons with Patrick Dangerfield making the All Australian squad, Joel Selwood averaging 27 disposals, and Ablett 29, yet they have not been Geelong’s best players, with AFLCA Young Player of the Year winner Tom Stewart and full-forward Tom Hawkins surely leading the way in the Cats B&F.
While, the Holy Trinity are judged so unfairly because how unbelievably good their careers have been, the fact of that matter is the three of them must be the best three players in the competition next month if the Cats are to go all the way. They are all obviously capable of doing this but it is a big ask. If they can string together one dominant month of footy, no side can stop them.
What a story that would be - the prodigal son takes them to football heaven again.
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