Round one, 2002 was where it all began. Geelong took on the might of 2001 Grand Finalists, Essendon at the MCG, and the young man with the floppy mane of hair and the smoothly-oiled biceps stepped out on the famous arena in the number 29 guernsey for his first AFL game.
How far this son of Geelong Football Club legend and AFL hall-of-famer Gary Ablett senior would go was a mystery at the time. On that Saturday evening the young Cats were disappointing, losing to the Bombers by 50 points, which was the norm in the first couple of seasons at the Cattery for young Ablett.
It certainly wasn’t to last.
His first outing as an AFL player was, to be fair, quite average, as that evening he collected just eight disposals and laid only one tackle. His first season was indeed one of a steep learning curve as he played in 12 matches and averaged just under nine disposals per game.
For young Ablett, it would take the best part of five years to step out of his fathers intimidating shadow.
The moment young Ablett emerged as a bona fide star in his own right was also the day that the Cats rose out of their slumber, and began one of the great eras in VFL/AFL football that continues to this very day.
After Geelong had opened 2007 with three losses in its first five matches, the pressure was on all and sundry down at Skilled Stadium. However, this game turned out to be no ordinary win for the Cats, for on a cool Sunday evening in front of nearly 35,000 against the enigma that is Richmond, Ablett and the Cats blitzed that evening. Ablett collected a career-high 32 disposals and booted three goals, and Geelong humiliated the Tigers to the tune of 157 points as the Cats booted 35 goals in an absolute mauling and in reality, Ablett really hasn’t looked back.
That breakout game for Ablett was his 106th at senior level and up until that point he was averaging a handy 15.5 disposals per game, and had built his reputation as a handy goal-kicker for the Cats producing 140 goals at an average of better than one per game. However, after this breakout performance Ablett quickly elevated himself from a handy mid-sized forward cum midfielder to the best player in the game, collecting outstanding numbers along the way. In his last 149 games over the course of the past seven seasons, Ablett has averaged an astounding 30.9 disposals per game, and has managed on an incredible 87 occasions to accumulate 30 or more touches, and has even on 17 occasions reached a total of 40-plus disposals.
Of course there is far more to the genius of Ablett than just pure numbers, for he of course has been decorated by his peers in winning the AFL Players Association MVP on four occasions, been named All-Australian an amazing six times, recorded wins in the club best and fairest at Geelong twice, and also in both years as captain of the Suns, and is well on the way to a third. Ablett remarkably has polled more than 20 votes in six consecutive Brownlow Medal counts, indeed winning the award with 30 votes in 2009, and is a red hot favourite to claim a second Brownlow Medal this year.
But all these individual achievements pale into insignificance compared to the two pinnacles of Gary Ablett’s career. Of course, these are the 2007 and 2009 premierships he achieved playing with Geelong.
While he wasn’t best on ground in either of the Cats victories, his efforts of 19 disposals and a goal in the record-breaking 119-point rout of Port Adelaide in 2007, and 25 disposals and the crucial toe-poke in the dying minutes that resulted in Paul Chapman’s crucial goal against the Saints in the 2009 decider, will ensure Ablett’s name lives in the hearts of Geelong fans for all time.
Of course, Ablett is no longer a Cat, departing after 192 games and two premierships, having accepted a big-money, five-year deal to head north. Ablett was named as the Gold Coast Suns marquee signing and first ever captain and to his eternal credit, he certainly hasn’t gone up there to hide, while raking in the cash.
In fact, Ablett has played some of his very best football at the Suns, highlighted by a record equalling 53-disposal effort in an otherwise disappointing 97-point defeat in 2012 against his old foe in the Magpies. In fact, Ablett had more disposals that night than the Suns final score. However, only three weeks ago Ablett and the Suns had their revenge, defeating the Pies by seven points, whilst Ablett helped himself to a lazy 49 disposals and two goals.
There really aren’t enough superlatives to describe Ablett, as he is simply the best footballer of his generation and is certainly worthy of the legendary status awarded to him already alongside fellow immortal champions of the game in John Coleman, Ted Whitten, Ron Barassi, Leigh Matthews and indeed his own father.
There could be no more fitting tribute for Ablett as he takes the field in his 250th game against the Demons at his new home at Metricon Stadium, than to see him collect another 30-plus disposals and inspire his team to another win. If anybody deserves to celebrate a milestone with four points, it is the bald-headed dynamo in the number nine guernsey. Like many football supporters, I hope that he can go on dazzling us all on the field for many more years to come, and at the end, when he does call it a day, we can say to Gary from a grateful football public, thanks for the ride.