Over the course of this series, we will look at some of this century’s greatest footballing characters. Their combination of ability, iconic stature and sometimes pure evil has made these ten stand above the rest. Amongst the ten are some heroes, some villains, and some of the most adored sportspeople ever, and they all will be remembered for their incredible contributions to our great game. They’re not necessarily the best to ever play, but we remember them for who they were and how they played.
In tenth spot is the Son of God, the Little Master, Gary Ablett himself. For many years Ablett has been one of the game’s greats, and with such high expectations on his shoulders, he has excelled. With his father’s name and reputation to live up to, the pressure was heaped on, but Ablett never once wilted under its weight.
Drafted as a Father-Son Selection with Pick 40 in 2001, Ablett quickly found his way into the Geelong side. After managing 12 appearances in his debut season, Ablett played every fixture of his second season in 2003. In 2004, Ablett and the Cats qualified to play finals footy for the first time in four seasons and made their way through to a Preliminary Final before being bundled out by eventual runners-up Brisbane. Ablett was a guaranteed selection whenever he was fit, due to his incredible talent, and starred for the Cats on numerous occasions across a few inconsistent seasons for the club.
The Glory Years
From 2007 to 2011, Geelong were the team to beat. The Cats of this period were one of the greatest football sides ever laid out on paper, and they won the silverware to prove it. The list was star-studded but there was none bigger than Gary Ablett.
Ablett made his permanent switch to the midfield in 2007 and drove the Cats engine room to success. His genuine athleticism and freakish skill set him and his team above the rest. Opposition fans loved to watch him, but hated to see him rip through their sides frankly B-Class midfielders when compared to Ablett in his prime.
Geelong finished top of the table in 2007 and won their first premiership in 44 years with a record 119 point Grand Final victory over Port Adelaide. In the Premiership decider, Ablett collected 19 touches and a massive eight tackles. Ablett’s stellar season made him favourite to claim his first Brownlow medal, but he never even got close with teammate Jimmy Bartel taking the award.
Although missing out on the Brownlow Medal in 2007, his stellar season saw Ablett rewarded with All Australian selection for the first time. After another incredible year in 2008, Ablett was again favourite for the Brownlow Medal, but he would miss out once again. After two near misses, the 2009 season would finally prove to be Ablett’s year.
Averaging near enough to 34 disposals a match, and kicking 27 goals for the season, Ablett’s stocks continued to rise as he led Geelong to a second premiership in three years and the first of his two Brownlow Medals. The 2009 Grand Final against St. Kilda was a monumental game for Ablett who collected 25 disposals and six tackles.
His most memorable involvement in Geelong’s Grand Final triumph, was perhaps being the recipient of Matthew Scarlett’s iconic toe-poke which set up Paul Chapman’s goal to seal the game for Geelong. Ablett always played with such flair and such confidence that at his best he truly was unstoppable.
Controversies With the Gold Coast
Almost immediately after the 2010 season concluded, Gary Ablett signed a massive five-year deal with the fledgling Gold Coast Suns. Immediately Ablett went from the AFL’s darling, to a greedy, disloyal show-off, and the public were not pleased. But Gary proved us all wrong as he always does, winning yet another Brownlow with the Suns in 2013 and leading the Suns goal kicking in both 2012 and 2013. Ablett was also the Suns inaugural captain and lead the side from 2011 to 2016 when he stepped down as captain. The last two seasons of Ablett’s career have been plagued with injury, but time and time again The Little Master has shown the footballing world he’s still the best. Despite his interrupted seasons Ablett’s form has seen him claim another Club Best & Fairest in 2017, and rake in possessions and kick freakish goals as if he were 22 again.
What does the future hold?
Now 33, season 2017 looks to be Ablett’s final season, or maybe the champ has one more round left him. With over 300 games of experience maybe he’s not the most colourful character, but he is Gary Ablett, and that means something to anyone who loves their footy. Ablett’s incredible skill has thrilled us all for more than a decade now, and regardless of whether or not he calls time at the end of 2017, he’ll always be one of the greatest, if not the greatest ever.
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