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Gary Ablett

Gary Ablett
Personal information
Full name Gary Robert Ablett, Senior
Nickname(s) God
Date of birth 1 October 1961 (1961-10-01) (age 48)
Place of birth Drouin, Victoria[1]
Recruited from Myrtleford/Drouin
Height/Weight 185 cm / 97 kg
Position(s) Forward
Playing career1
Years Club Games (Goals)
1982
1984 – 1996
Total
Hawthorn
Geelong
6 (9)
242 (1021)
248 (1030)   
State team honours
1984 - 1996 Victoria (Australia) Victoria 11 (43)

1 Playing statistics to end of 1996 season .

Gary Robert Ablett, senior (born 1 October 1961)[1] is a retired professional Australian rules football player who played the majority of his career with the Geelong Football Club. Ablett was best known as a prolific goalkicker and spectacular marker of the ball,[2] and his biography on the Australian Football League (AFL) website states, "he is one of the greatest players to have played the game".[3]

After making several country league representative teams, Ablett was signed by Hawthorn and made his professional senior debut in the 1982 season. However, he failed to settle down in the city and retreated to the countryside the following year. The Geelong Football Club managed to lure him back to the VFL in 1984, where he eventually settled down to become one of the league's biggest stars during the late '80s and early '90s.

Ablett's individual accolades and achievements include induction into the AFL's Hall of Fame, selection in the AFL Team of the Century, selection in the Geelong Football Club Team of the Century, the 1993 AFLPA MVP award (now known as the Leigh Matthews Trophy), three Coleman Medals, four All-Australian jumpers, eleven State representative jumpers for Victoria, a Norm Smith Medal, a Carji Greeves Medal as the 1984 Geelong Best & Fairest Player, and being the leading goal-kicker for the Cats on nine occasions. He holds the record for most goals in a Grand Final when he scored nine goals and one behind in 1989, and is the only player to have won the Coleman Medal and kicked 100 goals in three consecutive seasons. In 2006, Ablett was voted by past and present Geelong Football Club players as the greatest Geelong footballer of all time.[4] In 2009 The Australian nominated Ablett as one of the 25 greatest footballers never to win a Brownlow medal.[5]

Contents

Early life

Born in Drouin to Alfred and Colleen Ablett, Gary Ablett grew up within Victoria's Gippsland region alongside his four elder brothers and three sisters.[1] Ablett displayed a love for sport at an early age, winning the state school high jump at 10 years of age, and awarded club and competition best and fairest awards for Drouin at the under-11s, under-12s and under-14s levels.[1] Citing waning interest, Ablett dropped out of high school at the age of 15 to become a bricklayer's labourer.[1] By the time he was 16 years of age, Ablett was playing for the Drouin seniors alongside his brothers. After several country league representative games, the Hawthorn Football Club, which by then had already signed two of Gary's elder brothers, Geoff and Kevin, onto their lists, invited him to play reserves football.[1]

Football career

The Hawthorn experience

After signing a reserves contract and featuring in six reserves games, Ablett headed back to Drouin, before returning to Hawthorn in 1981 to play senior football for the club. However, after an uneventful 6 appearances for the Hawks, Ablett cited an inability to truly settle down in the city as an underlying factor in his decision to leave the club and head to the country town of Myrtleford under the tutelage of his cousin Len Ablett.[1] It wasn't long, however, before his footballing ability came on notice again, this time to the Geelong Football Club and their long-time recruiting officer Bill McMaster, who convinced Ablett to give the game another shot, albeit this time in the confines of the rural City of Geelong. After several unsuccessful appeals by Hawthorn, Ablett finally completed a $60,000 transfer to Geelong.[1]

The early years

Signed to a one-year contract for the 1984 season by Geelong, Ablett began his first season under the guidance of master coach Tom Hafey. After just 9 games playing on the wing, Ablett was controversially selected to his first State of Origin game for Victoria.[1] However, with the support of the legendary Ted Whitten, Ablett proceeded to kick 8 goals from the half-forward flank for the defeated Victorian side, and ultimately collected best-on-ground honours.[1] After only 15 games for the club, in a debut season which yielded 33 goals, Ablett was awarded the Carji Greeves Medal as the Geelong Football Club's "Best and Fairest", adding to his several media awards as the player of the year.

The boom success of his first season for the Cats behind him, Ablett signed on to a new three-year contract with the club.[1] Alternating between the wing and a forward flank, Ablett headed the club's goal-kicking list for the following two seasons, booting 82 and 65 goals respectively.[1] Although Ablett's lazed approach to training discipline were well known and raised issues, his then coach, John Devine, was nonetheless moved to dub him the "footballing superman",[6] as Ablett continued his rise within the league - earning top three placings in the Best and Fairest awards over three consecutive seasons.

With his second contract expiring in late August, 1987, and reports of dissension with Devine rising, Ablett shocked the footballing world by signing a five-year contract with his former club, Hawthorn. After a "cooling-off" period, however, Ablett opted to remain with the Cats, agreeing to a lucrative five-year contract that would tie him to the club for the long-term.[6]

Ablett began the 1988 season with 59 goals to his name within the first 11 games, placing him second on the goalkicking list behind Hawthorn's Jason Dunstall. A dominant 10 goal display against Richmond on Anzac Day, eight of which came in the first half alone, was bettered just six rounds later against Brisbane, with Ablett slotting 11 goals to come within one goal of breaking the ground record of 12 goals. Although by-passed for State honours, and failing to place within the top three in the club best and fairest award, Ablett notched 82 goals during the season for the second time in his career.

A September to remember

The 1989 season was marked by the arrival of Ablett's third coach, former North Melbourne Brownlow Medallist Malcolm Blight. Instructed to play more freely across the ground, Ablett helped the Cats reach the finals on the back of a ten match winning streak to end the regular season. In a 134-point victory against Richmond, Ablett scored 14 goals, breaking a 22-year club record, and moving club legend and former club premiership coach Bobby Davis to laud Ablett as the finest footballer he had seen at Geelong, ahead of the legendary Graham 'Polly' Farmer.[6]

Although figuring amongst his team's best with three goals, Ablett's performance in the Qualifying Final was not enough as Essendon humbled Geelong by 76 points to force the Cats into a sudden-death Semi Final showdown with Melbourne. After an even first quarter by both sides, Ablett took charge, taking one-handed marks with regularity and running off his defender to race through packs and influence the game around the ground.[6] Ablett's seven goals, along with his 24 disposals and 14 marks, helped the Cats post a 63-point win, setting up another meeting with Essendon in the Preliminary Final. Playing on a half-forward flank this time, Ablett continued his brilliant September with 8 goals, 22 kicks and ten marks, as the Cats crushed Essendon by 94 points to advance to their first Grand Final since 1967.[6]

Against the powerhouse Hawthorn side in the 1989 VFL Grand Final, Blight opted to line Ablett up at full-forward from the starting siren. Ablett asserted his dominance from the opening bounce, marking the ball out at centre-half forward from the first centre clearance kick and slotting through the game's first goal. By half-time Ablett had kicked four goals and, in a very physical match, cannoned into the back of veteran Hawthorn wingman Robert DiPierdomenico at express pace, breaking his rib and perforating one of his lungs in the process. Although the Cats trailed at the half-time break by 37 points, Ablett's continued dominance up forward against his former side saw the lead reduced to just 6 points with less than a minute to go. The Ablett-led charge by the Cats, however, would ultimately fall short, with the Hawks holding by six points in what would go down in AFL history as one of the toughest and closest Grand Finals of the modern era. Ablett's 17 disposals, 8 marks, and 9 goals, recognised as one of the greatest individual performances of all-time, earned him the Norm Smith Medal, and in doing so became only the second player in Grand Final history to be awarded the medal as a member of the losing team.

First retirement

On February 1 1991, Ablett announced his retirement, citing a loss of enjoyment for the game, and personal reasons, for his 'present attitude'.[6] Although he had enjoyed another top-three placing in the club Best & Fairest award at the end of the 1990 AFL season, the previous year was also marred by injury, dipping motivation, and personal issues - Ablett separating from his wife, Sue, early in January.[6]

The second coming

Geoff Hook cartoon from June 11, 1991 referring to Ablett's long awaited return to Geelong.

Ablett was encouraged, however, to overturn his decision, and after 5 months away from the game made a successful comeback halfway through the 1991 season. Ablett's much-heralded return to the field was met by renewed support, although, having missed half a year of football, he proved to be a shadow of his former self. A behind-the-play incident involving Nathan Burke of St Kilda during the Cats' Elimination Final triumph over the Saints saw Ablett suspended by the AFL Tribunal for two weeks, with Geelong subsequently losing to the season's two eventual Grand Finalists - Hawthorn in the 2nd Semi-Final and West Coast at Waverley Park in the Preliminary Final - and prematurely ending Ablett's year.

Question marks were raised ahead of the 1992 season, with many wondering if Ablett's best football was now behind him. Ablett responded to the challenge, however, improving his fitness base and training appearances on the track. A consistent first half of the year helped the Cats achieve an 11-3 record, and outright premiership favouritism, eventually earning them a spot in the Grand Final, this time against the West Coast Eagles. After establishing a two-goal lead at half-time, the Cats failed to sustain their momentum during the second half, eventually going down by 28 points to the fast-finishing Eagles. Ablett, who finished with 3 goals, had again failed to finish the year with the same dominance in which he had begun it.

One special season

Before the 1993 season, Ablett was encouraged by then coach, Malcolm Blight, to move from his customary half-forward/wing position to the primary goal-scoring position at full-forward, in an effort to prolong his career. Although, at 31 years of age, Ablett possessed an extraordinary goals-per-game average of 3.5, the best of any non-specialist full-forward in the history of the game,[6] he agreed to the permanent switch up forward, relinquishing his roaming position in the midfield in the process. The move up forward proved to be a master-stroke, with Ablett thriving in his goal-kicking role, reaching the 50 goal mark in just six games, equalling the sixty-year record of South Melbourne legend Bob Pratt. He brought up his maiden century of goals in the season just seven games later, one game faster than record-holder Pratt, and became the first Geelong player to kick 100 goals in a season since Larry Donohue in 1976. Although the Cats did not make the Finals, Ablett's new-found dominance up forward was highlighted during the season with his bags of ten or more goals on five occasions - including a 14 goal performance against Essendon in Round 6. His end-of-season total of 124 goals, achieved in just 17 appearances, earned him his first Coleman Medal as the League's leading goal-scorer, the AFLPA MVP award, his AFLMA Player of the Year Award, and a top ten placing in the Brownlow Medal.

Towards the end of his career Ablett bulked up to an intimidating size. Renowned as much for his explosive pace and power as his freakish skills, Ablett was also an accomplished aerialist. With strong hands, Ablett became a master of the pack mark, regularly taking spectacular marks in his career. A highlight was the 1994 Mark of the Year over Collingwood's Gary Pert on Mothers' Day at the MCG. He had tremendous success as full-forward and went on to win three consecutive Coleman Medals (most goals in a season) from 1993. He broke the 100-goal barrier on each occasion.

Legacy

"Gary was a fantastic player and is widely recognised as one of the greatest players the game has seen...the greatest player we have had wear the navy and white hoops."
—Frank Costa.[7]
"Watching Ablett made me feel vulnerable, as though he was complete and the rest of us had something missing."
Tim Watson.[6]
For 12 years he displayed his awesome ability, there was no skill he did not possess...football followers travelled many kilometres to see him play and they were never disappointed...he has left a legacy wherein Gary Ablett is one of the greatest players to have played the game."
—extract from Hall of Fame biography[3]

Ablett displayed his renowned skillset right from his entrance into the league, combining strength, speed, and skill to produce some of the most spectacular individual games in the history of the VFL/AFL. Noted for his spectacular leap, a trait attributed to his unusual abundance of fast-twitch muscle fibres, and goal kicking ability, Ablett is acknowledged for popularising the 'speccy'.

A noted big game player, Ablett kicked 43 goals in 11 State appearances - an average of nearly 4 goals a game. Perhaps more significantly, he booted 63 goals over the course of his 15 finals - an average of over 4 goals a game.[1]

His haul of 27 goals in the 1989 finals series is a record that still stands; he kicked 3 goals vs. Essendon, 7 vs. Melbourne, 8 vs. Essendon in Geelong's winning rematch, and 9 in the losing Grand Final against Hawthorn. His performance in the 1989 Grand Final, where he was rewarded the Norm Smith Medal for best player afield, is considered one of the greatest individual performances in the history of the game. In winning the medal, he became one of only four players (and only the second at the time) the others being Maurice Rioli -1982, Nathan Buckley -2002, and Chris Judd -2005) to win the medal playing for the losing side. In 1993, Ablett became the 2nd fastest player to kick 100 goals, doing so in 14 games, with only the legendary Bob Pratt bettering it in 13 games. In 1996, Ablett joined Gordon Coventry, Doug Wade, Jason Dunstall and Tony Lockett as the only players in league history to kick 1000 VFL/AFL goals.

In 1996, Ablett was named in the AFL Team of the Century on the interchange bench, alongside Jack Dyer and Greg . In 2001, Ablett was named in the Geelong Team of the Century, on a half forward flank. In 2005, after many years of controversy and debate (see below), Ablett was inducted into the Australian Football League Hall of Fame. The following year, he was honoured yet again when he was voted as the Greatest Geelong player of all-time ahead of Graham Farmer.

In 2006, Ablett was honoured with the naming of a terrace in his name within the newly renovated Skilled Stadium. Ablett once had a set of gates named in his honour, but he was upgraded to a terrace at the beginning of the 2006 AFL season.[8]

Career achievements

Team

  • McClelland Trophy (with Geelong): 1992

Individual

Other achievements

  • 5th on all-time leading goal-kickers
  • All-time leading goal kicker for Geelong F.C. (1021 goals)
  • Only player to have won Coleman Medal and kicked 100 goals in three consecutive seasons (1993 - 1995)
  • Oldest player to kick 100 goals in a season (33 years old in 1995)
  • Most goals in an AFL/VFL final (9 goals)
  • 4-time runner-up in Carji Greeves Medal (1985, 1993, 1994, 1995)
  • 3-time third-place getter in Carji Greeves Medal (1986, 1989, 1990)

Induction into the Australian Football Hall of Fame

Despite his footballing achievements on the field, Ablett's induction into the Australian Football Hall of Fame was initially delayed. Despite Ablett's undoubted footballing credentials, his well-publicised association with drug-victim Alicia Horan was responsible for the Australian Football Hall of Fame committee's reluctance to induct him.[9] In 2004, after several years of speculation over his induction, Ablett personally requested that the Geelong Football Club stop nominating him for selection, which the club agreed to. However, the following year it was announced that Ablett would be inducted into the Hall of Fame as part of the 2005 intake.[10]

Ablett did not attend the induction ceremony and instead released a statement through his then-manager, Michael Baker:[11]

"Due to my current battle with depression I am not in a position to be able to accept this award in person. I did not make this decision lightly but due to medical advice it was deemed best for my health that I do not attend tonight. I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to play this great game and also to have played at the elite level alongside many celebrated champions. Being chosen to be inducted into the Hall of Fame is one of the highest honours a player could dream of. I thank those who deem me worthy enough to be placed alongside such respected company."

Personal life

The youngest of eight children, Ablett grew up alongside four elder brothers and three elder sisters.

In 1985, Ablett wed his long-time girlfriend Sue, and the couple had four children - Natasha, Gary, Jr., Nathan, and Alisha.[1]

In 1986, Ablett became a born-again Christian and has been said to be slightly aggrieved at constantly being referred to as "God" by fans, a nickname based on his supreme football abilities.[1] Ablett's faith was often highlighted in several tribunal appearances, in one case confessing and pleading guilty to striking Garry Lyon in an 1989 incident, declaring he "wasn't prepared to lie about it or compromise the truth in [his] relationship with God".[6] Ablett's public acknowledgement of his faith, in particular the influence of God in his life, during his acceptance speech for the Norm Smith Medal in the 1989 Grand Final was also much publicised.[6]

In December 2007 Ablett hit back at media claims that his son Nathan had walked away from his football career because of the publicity surrounding the release of a new book about his father[12]. Although normally reluctant to make public comments, Ablett felt that the media intrusion into his family life had gone too far.

As part of a series of books, "Legends of Australian Sport," Ablett contributed to a book regarding himself. It was the first time he revealed intimate details regarding his life publicly.

A footballing family

Two of Ablett's brothers played in the Victorian Football League - Kevin Ablett, who played for Hawthorn, Richmond and Geelong, and Geoff Ablett, who played for Hawthorn, Richmond and St Kilda.

Ablett's eldest son, Gary Ablett, Jr., has followed in his footsteps to play for Geelong. In 2007 & 2009, Ablett Jr. won the Cats' best and fairest award, emulating a feat established by his father in his first season with the Cats back in 1984; he also won the 2009 Brownlow Medal. Another son, Nathan, was drafted in 2004 (48th pick) by Geelong under the father-son rule. Nathan initially refused to play AFL Football because of his father's experience with the media, but with encouragement from the club was signed ahead of the 2005 AFL Season and has since established himself in the full forward role Gary Snr made his own. On 29 September 2007, both Gary Jnr and Nathan helped Geelong win its first flag in 44 years, capturing the premiership that proved elusive to Gary Snr in his 12 years at the club. Nathan suddenly retired before the start of the 2008 season.

In addition to his sons, Ablett has a nephew, Luke Ablett, playing with the Sydney Swans. Two other nephews, from his sister's marriage to Hawthorn legend Michael Tuck, also play in the AFL - Shane Tuck, a regular with the Richmond Tigers, and Travis Tuck, a young player now cementing his place in Hawthorn's senior side.

Off-field controversies

Ablett has also had well-documented off-field problems, particularly with illegal drug use and depression. In 1990 Ablett was placed on a $10,000 good behaviour bond after he pleaded guilty to repeatedly hitting a man he found sitting in a car with his estranged wife.

In 2000 Ablett became involved in controversy when a nineteen-year old Geelong woman, Alicia Horan, died of a drug overdose (heroin, ecstasy and amphetamines) while in Ablett's hotel room. After a prolonged period of refusing to answer police questions - Ablett stating he had "received pressure from certain avenues not to give all the facts" - he admitted to providing Horan with heroin and other drugs, which he took with her. Ablett was charged with four drug offences to which he pleaded guilty and was convicted and fined $1500.[13].

On 26 June 2006 Ablett was allegedly assaulted at 11.15pm whilst browsing through a car yard in Fyans Street, South Geelong[14][15]. A 31-year-old Geelong man, Vyasa Ofthesea, an alleged attacker, appeared in the Geelong Magistrates court on 27 June and was remanded in custody on charges relating to alleged assault. Ofthesea was later bailed on condition he did not contact Ablett and sought psychiatric care within 24 hours. Ofthesea was reported to have committed suicide on 10 July 2006 by jumping from a Melbourne high rise apartment block, the day before he was due to appear before the Geelong Magistrates court to defend the assault charges.[16]

See also

References

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Ablett, G, "Gary Ablett - Ironbark Legends", Ironbark Legends, Sydney, 1996. pgs. 20, 24, 33, 36, 39, 47, 50.
  2. ^ Haigh, G, "Playing God: The Rise and Fall of Gary Ablett" smh.com.au, 19 July 2003, accessed 9 October 2007
  3. ^ a b "Player Profile: Gary Ablett" gfc.com.au, accessed 9 October 2007
  4. ^ "Ablett named greatest Cat", ABC Sport, 11 June 2006, accessed 6 October 2007
  5. ^ The Australian, September 22, 2009, retrieved 2009-09-22
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Piesse, Ken. "Ablett: The Gary Ablett Story", Wilkinson Books, Melbourne, 1994, pgs. xx, 82, 134, 138
  7. ^ "Ablett the Top Cat", accessed 9 October 2007
  8. ^ Ralph, J "Wade takes a stand on Ablett attack", 'The Herald Sun', 7 December 2007, accessed 25 May 2009
  9. ^ Hutchison named to AFL Legend list, ABC Sport, July 1, 2003
  10. ^ Ablett's Hall of Fame exile to end, ABC Sport, June 2, 2005
  11. ^ Ablett recognised as 'football genius', ABC Sport, June 5, 2005
  12. ^ Back off my family: Ablett, realfooty.com.au, December 3, 2007
  13. ^ Revealed: what took place in the hotel room, The Age, March 1, 2003
  14. ^ [1]
  15. ^ Ablett bashed in street attack - National - theage.com.au
  16. ^ Ablett bashing accused dead in apparent suicide - National - smh.com.au
Sporting positions
Preceded by
Greg Williams
All-Australian captain
1995
Succeeded by
Paul Kelly
Preceded by
Paul Roos
Victorian captain
1995
Succeeded by
Stephen Silvagni
Preceded by
Mark Bairstow
Geelong Football Club captain
1995 – 1996
Succeeded by
Barry Stoneham
Awards and achievements
Preceded by
Ray Card
Carji Greeves Medal
1984
Succeeded by
Greg Williams
Preceded by
Denis Banks
Tony Modra
Mark of the Year
1985
1994
Succeeded by
Gary Buckenara
Shaun Smith
Preceded by
Gary Ayres
Norm Smith Medal
1989
Succeeded by
Tony Shaw
Preceded by
Matthew Larkin
Goal of the Year
1989
Succeeded by
Michael Mitchell
Preceded by
Jason Dunstall
Leigh Matthews Trophy
1993
Succeeded by
Greg Williams
Preceded by
Jason Dunstall
Coleman Medal
1993 – 1995
Succeeded by
Tony Lockett







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