Even breaking records, Gary Ablett can’t win
Gold Coast Suns star Gary Ablett (Slattery Images)
Last night I heard the first words of wisdom to be uttered in a week. “Fifty-three possessions and all the rubbish going on about him taking the ball off someone else and all that sort of garbage. He is an outstanding player”.
So said the esteemed former coach Paul Roos in response to the absurd recent criticism of Gary Ablett Junior.
In his third year of AFL football Ablett was told by an assistant coach that he was too selfless, that “he handballed too much, almost to the point where it was ridiculous.”
Eight years, two premierships and a Brownlow later, Ablett equals the all-time record for disposals in a single game against an excellent Collingwood side, and is immediately branded by some as being too selfish.
Mick Malthouse was the first assailant, and was closely followed by former players Mark Maclure, Tony Shaw and David King, who all claimed Ablett was stifling the development of the younger players by absorbing cheap possession.
It must be remembered that for that game against the Pies, Ablett was without the wise-headed assistance of three of the club’s most experienced players, in Jarrod Harbrow, Nathan Bock, and Jared Brennan.
Maclure and King played in dominant teams. What do they know about running around with a failing venture? Life’s a laugh in a winning side.
When the ball is in dispute you can sprint to space confident your teammates will win possession and deliver the ball on a platter. Ablett has to assume the worst and stay with his tagger.
Running with the ball is a breeze, whereas chasing your opponent and those of lazy, inexperienced, or inept teammates quickly brings fatigue and a despair that Ablett has difficulty in concealing.
One of the reasons the criticism arose after the Collingwood game was that Ablett’s opponent, Dale Thomas, was judged to be best on ground with an impressive 32 possessions, eleven clearances and three goals.
No disrespect to Daisy Thomas, but if he and Ablett had swapped teams, the latter would still have had his fifty-three stats, and booted five goals while he was at it.
Malthouse and King pointed out that in the absence of Ablett due to injury, some of the younger players stepped up, such as nineteen-year-old Harley Bennell who had 37 possessions and kicked three goals against Fremantle. However he and players such as Sam Illes and Daniel Stanley have also had healthy possessions when the Gold Coast has been annihilated.
Against Collingwood the team had three hundred and ten possessions that didn’t involve Ablett – plenty from which to hone to your skills.
What I found damning was the personal nature of the criticism.
Malthouse’s “I don’t think it’s raw selfishness [but] ….if you give it off to a player who just wants to stack up (possessions) because he thinks he’s a better kick than you, he’s got to make sure that ball is delivered.”
And then there was the almost dismissive and condescending tone of Maclure: “He’s a great player and we love him, but he probably needs to find a position somewhere else so they can actually develop some talent through the middle of the ground.”
If reducing Ablett’s influence in the midfield is going to benefit the team in the long-term then surely that’s a decision for the coach. McKenna, who is fighting for his survival, is not likely to leave his best player – the premier player of the competition – rotting in the forward line.
I’ve always felt a little sorry for Ablett.
His recruitment by the Geelong Falcons in the TAC Cup was met with some derision by parents who thought his name was greater than his ability.
He still refers to himself as Junior for a sense of identity, but also in deference to his troubled and reclusive father, who was judged by many as the greatest player ever, and certainly the most talented.
Players like Ablett Snr don’t emerge very often, even from the same gene pool.
I remember being a little disappointed seeing the child for the first time. He had a smooth babyish face, he was short, and he didn’t leap.
But he did have the strong build and skills of his father – and his uncles – and also stamina. He’s had to endure some of the most ferocious taggers of the modern era, like St Kilda’s Steven Baker who yesterday spoke of his tactics when playing against the star midfielder: hip and shoulders off the ball, punches to the same part of the arm, “shots” to the sternum, and stepping on the feet.
He’s a (short) tall poppy and he’s won everything there is to win in the game. If a 53-possession game can only draw criticism, then that criticism must be, as Paul Roos said, garbage.
As Roos also pointed out, in Saturday night’s game against St Kilda, Ablett ran in circles for most of it, as his teammates largely ignored him and consistently turned over possession with poor delivery. He spent more time in the forward line, accumulated a relatively paltry nineteen possessions, and Gold Coast lost by ninety-five points.
The only concern over Ablett is his ability to act as mentor for the young playing group. But that’s another story.
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