Gary Ablett’s football journey comes full circle to Geelong :-: abc net

Related Story: Ablett heads home to the Cattery right at the end of AFL trade window

In 2018, Gary Ablett Jr will once again don the Geelong colours to play before adoring fans at Kardinia Park.

The agreement between Gold Coast and Geelong in the final hour of the trading period brings the 33-year-old back where it all began.

Ablett's football journey

More than most other sports, Australian Rules football is built on dynasties, so much so that it has a father-son rule to allow sons — and daughters in the AFLW — of famous players to be drafted by the clubs their fathers played for.

At the Geelong Football Club, there is no bigger family name than Ablett.

Although Gary Ablett Snr played briefly at Hawthorn, he was and is an icon at the Cats — nicknamed "God" by the fans, he kicked a total of 1,030 goals in his career, and although he never won a premiership, he was Norm Smith Medallist in 1989, booting nine goals in the epic Grand Final loss to Hawthorn.

His brother Kevin also played briefly for the Cats in 1985, but his sons Nathan and Gary all but grew up in the Geelong changerooms following their dad's exploits.

Both would play for Geelong, but Gary Jr was the one who would make a mark to rival his father.

Gazza makes his mark for the Cats

Gary Ablett playing for Geelong against hawthorn in round two, 2010.

Gary Snr was a dynamic and mercurial forward capable of kicking bags of 10 or more on his day and destroying the greatest oppositions — or of going missing for most of the match before saving the day at the end, as displayed in the 1994 prelim final against North Melbourne.

In contrast Gary Jnr, known colloquially as "Gazza" or "the Son of God", was a gifted in-and-under player who tackled hard, got incredible amounts of contested ball and had a vision on the football field second to none.

Gary Ablett — a tale of two clubs

Team Years Games Goals Honours
Geelong 2002-2010 192 262 Flags: 2007, 2009
Br Medal: 2009
All Aust x 4
Gold Coast 2011-2017 110 124 Br Medal: 2009
All Aust x 4
Geelong 2018-?

He was capable of kicking ridiculous goals — and goals in high-pressure situations — but it was his combination with the other members of the Geelong side that led to a golden period for the Cats.

Gary Ablett Jr played in three successive grand finals with Geelong, winning two flags and achieved something his father never did, taking out the Brownlow Medal in 2009.

But although there had been plenty of speculation, he still set off a storm in late 2010 when he made one of the biggest moves in AFL history, signing a five-year deal worth $9 million at the Gold Coast.

The Ablett show moved to Carrara, and although he was playing with a young, inexperienced team and success was a long time coming, "Gazza" arguably raised his game higher.

Ablett raises the bar at the Suns

Even as the Suns struggled to win games, Ablett was racking up huge possession numbers, kicking goals and lifting his team by sheer willpower and brilliance.

Never comfortable as a frontman, Ablett was the biggest marketing tool for the Suns as well as its on-field star.

Suns captain Gary Ablett interacts with fans following the Round 17, 2013 win over Collingwood.

He had a lock on the AFL Players Association MVP award, and won the Brownlow again at the Suns with a dominant 2013 season.

In the modern AFL, contracts are about as secure as a rope bridge in a wind storm, with the emergence of free agency and the increasing power of players.

Ablett, however, was a different case.

In April 2015 — a month before his 32nd birthday — Ablett signed a three-year extension on a reported $1 million a year over the contract, which would keep him at Carrara until the end of the 2018 season.

It appeared to head off talk of Ablett making the move back to Kardinia Park, and suggested he would see out his career at the Suns.

In retrospect, however, the turning point had come with a single tackle on a wet evening at Carrara in round 16, the previous year.

Shoulder injury cruels Ablett's, Suns' hopes

Ablett had the ball for the Suns — who had started the round inside the top eight — against Collingwood, when tagger Brent Macaffer brought him to ground, only for Ablett to get up grimacing, holding his badly dislocated shoulder.

This was, perhaps, the sliding doors moment for Ablett and the Suns.

If he remained fit, there is a solid argument that Gold Coast would have made the finals that season.

Suns captain Gary Ablett comes off the field in pain against Collingwood at Carrara in July 2014.

Without him, however, the Suns' young playing list proved unable to get the job done, and they faded out to finish 12th.

From there, the story at Gold Coast turned darker. Injuries hampered Ablett in 2015, as the Suns won just four games for the season.

Young stars like Charlie Dixon and Harley Bennell left the Suns at the end of the year, as a sense of crisis enveloped the club.

Ablett had managed to play just six games in 2015, and the ability of his body to withstand the rigours of a 22-game season was increasingly in question.

The Suns appeared to be getting further away from the finals, rather than closer.

Call of family, home the deciding factor

In late 2016, the news broke that Ablett had asked for a trade back to Geelong, but the Suns had refused the request, saying he was still contracted for two more seasons.

External Link: Geelong Cats tweet: Welcome home, Gaz. We've missed you. #TheReturn

This did nothing to stifle speculation throughout the 2017 season, and it came as little surprise when the announcement came in late September that he had told the Suns again that Geelong was his preferred club for next season.

It took weeks for the two clubs to come to an agreement, but amid the focus on negotiations Ablett's family suffered a tragic loss as his sister Natasha died.

The news put the debate in perspective, and although it took some time to iron out, an agreement was reached.

Within an hour or two of the confirmation of Ablett's move, a swift editing of his Wikipedia entry — presumably by a Geelong fan — gave an indication of the expectations of his return to the Cattery.

"On 19 October, Ablett was traded back to Geelong," the entry read. "Geelong then went on to win the premiership in 2018."

Regardless of whether that particular prophecy comes true, the trade allows Gary Ablett to finish his career in a familiar environment, close to family at a time when it is most needed.

For now, surely, that is enough.

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