AFL: Gary Ablett Jr arrives home at last with point still to prove

first_imgGeelong Australian rules football Read more Link between concussion and brain damage to ensure AFL debate rages Arguably, Gary Ablett Jr lacks a certain mythical quality to be spoken about in this company. The little bald man cast in bronze? C’mon. For many, he’s synonymous with the modern deference to statistics; a mercenary who chased the dollar, who plays for himself, who racks up dinky little possessions. For many, he doesn’t quicken the pulse the way a Martin or a Franklin does.Perhaps it’s his piety. Australians, after all, have always been wary of those who profess their love for the Lord. Or perhaps it’s because of how things ended at the Gold Coast. His coach described his behaviour as “very odd”. Dermott Brereton said he “logged off” and was “cruising around getting superannuation.” Resident dial-a-quote David Schwarz called him a “selfish little mongrel.”Whatever the case, Ablett’s record is astonishing, probably second only to Matthews. He’s an eight time All-Australian. He’s won six best and fairests, two of them in premiership years. He’s won two Brownlows, was robbed blind in 2008, close-up in a couple of others and well on the way to a third in 2014, before he hurt his shoulder. Perhaps most significantly, he’s been voted the league’s most valuable player five times by his peers.Any discussion about Gary Ablett Jnr inevitably begins with his dad. No one better personified the spell this game can cast. There was a messianic fervor around Ablett Snr that was never going to end well. Geelong was on its knees in the early 90s. Derryn Hinch placed it on his ‘Shame File’. The town needed a hero. Ablett, for a few years at least, brightened up a lot of lives. Share on Pinterest Of all the cricketers, footballers and track and field athletes who make up the MCG’s Parade of Champions, the Leigh Matthews statue is the most arresting. Sculptor Louis Laumen spent more than 500 hours on the project and he nailed it – the barrel chest, the glowering stare, the legs that could prop up a jetty. Just like his Dennis Lillee piece on the other side of the concourse, he captures both the menace and the majesty of an athlete in motion.Who of the subsequent generation of footballers is qualified to join them? Jim Stynes, for reasons that transcend the normal prerequisites, is one of five on the Avenue of Champions. But who else? Wayne Carey, Gary Ablett Snr and James Hird are too problematic. Tony Lockett is not really synonymous with the MCG. Indeed, the SCG commissioned a statue of Plugger a decade ago, only to scrap it because the work in progress looked nothing like him. Reuse this content Support The Guardian If anything, his achievements at the Gold Coast surpassed his career at Geelong. Here was a club with no history, no pulse, poor facilities and few fans. He played alongside rugby league players, time-servers and homesick Victorians. They were allocated the worst timeslots. They were expected to, and often did, lose. Every week, there’d be someone hanging off him for four quarters. And every week, he was excellent. It’s hard to remember him ever playing a bad game.There remains an urgency, almost an impatience, to both him and his game. It’s as through he’s desperate to win us over, desperate to secure his place in football history. On Sunday afternoon, he’ll be back where he belongs, back at the club where he grew up, up against a team he’s lunched on many a time. On Sunday afternoon, you could be trackside at Albert Park, pondering your perforated eardrums. Or you could be a few kilometres up the road at the MCG, watching the preeminent footballer of our generation; a footballer with plenty more to give; a footballer, incredibly, with something still to prove. features Share via Email Read more Topics … we have a small favour to ask. 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We need your support to keep delivering quality journalism that’s open and independent. Every reader contribution, however big or small, is so valuable. Support The Guardian from as little as $1 – and it only takes a minute. Thank you.center_img Since you’re here… ‘Massive upside’ and hunger key to back-to-back Tiger AFL fairytales Guardian Australia sport newsletter: subscribe by email AFL Share on WhatsApp Share on Facebook Gold Coast Suns Read more Share on LinkedIn Share on Twitter By the end of the decade, he had forfeited his divinity. 20-year-old fan Alisha Horan died from snorting heroin with him in a hotel room. Then came Garry Linnell’s sad, scathing biography. And there was his eldest son, an iridescent but initially reluctant talent.True to type, Gary complicated things as much as possible by naming his first-born son after himself. It could easily have been an anvil on his back. “He was an angelic little boy, so shy, bashful and respectful,” Brendan McCartney recalled in James Button’s history of the club. “I remember thinking, you’re just a little boy.”Geelong fans were expecting a facsimile of the old man. He had his dad’s eyes and he had his hunch. In the early days, he lusted after the ball like a puppy in the park. But he quickly forged his own path, cultivated his own game and found the poise, the consistently and the reliability that had eluded his dad.They were so different. Some weeks, Gary Snr gave the impression he’d rather be hunting boars. “Just kick it up the guts and I’ll get it,” he would tell teammates, the names of whom often escaped him. His son, in stark contrast, has always been fully present on the field. There’s a mathematical precision to his game. His sleight of hand, his spatial awareness and his ability to think several possessions ahead are peerless. No footballer has had a better command of the basics. No footballer has been as consistent.Physiologically, he’s a fascinating case study. If he walked past you on the street, you wouldn’t necessarily pick him as an elite athlete. But everything about his physique is functional. The way he hinges at the hips, orientates his head and transfers his weight all ensure an economy of movement that is perfect for modern football. Share on Messenger Australia sportlast_img