Football nicknames are sometimes a bit inscrutable, but when a player is nicknamed ‘God’, well, that’s rather straightforward.
That was the case for Gary Ablett senior, a player who alongside Leigh Matthews and Wayne Carey is consistently rated as amongst the best seen in living memory.
When that player has a son who becomes arguably as good or better than his old man ever was, that only adds to the legend.
I’m talking about Gary Ablett junior of course (with apologies to Nathan Ablett) – GAJ, Gazza, or if you prefer, the Son of God.
Ablett the elder didn’t take Geelong to the promised land, but junior did – and then did it again two years later.
Then he was led into the wilderness (Queensland) and tempted for forty days and nights (the 2010 AFL season) by the devil (expansion).
That’s where the metaphor falls down a bit because rather than turning over the tables of the money lenders in the temple, this Son of God signed a five-year deal with the Gold Coast Suns, reportedly worth more than $9 million. The results have been mixed.
There’s been another four All-Australian jumpers, three best-and-fairests, two leading goalkicker awards, and of course the 2013 Brownlow Medal.
However, there have also been questions over his leadership and character, 31 games missed through injury in the last three years, zero finals, and a trade request put to the Suns to come home to Geelong at the end of last year.
That’s where the biblical metaphor picks up again – Christianity has been waiting rather a long time for the second coming of its Son of God, but Geelong fans might not have to wait much longer.
It wasn’t until after last year’s trade and free agency period that the story broke that Gary Ablett had asked the Suns for a trade home to Geelong.
“At the end of the season, and well before the exchange period, Gary asked a question relating to the possibility of him returning to Geelong. The club’s response was an emphatic no. An answer Gary both accepted and understood,” said Gold Coast’s football manager Marcus Ashcroft.
The way the Suns put it you’d say it was over and done with, no big deal really. It will be a surprise to the vast majority of football fans, myself included, if that really does prove to be the case.
Ablett is currently contracted until the end of 2018 and you can understand why the Suns would refuse to let him go last year – with Jaeger O’Meara and Dion Prestia departing the club, it would have made a bad situation all the more dire.
Could things be different at the end of 2017? Perhaps with new captains running the show and more young talent being blooded, the Suns might be willing to begrudgingly move on from the Ablett era – especially if he has another injury-stricken season.
Geelong’s behaviour over the off-season perhaps suggests they have an interest in bringing Ablett back to the club.
They were deep into negotiations to secure Brett Deledio and then backed out very suddenly – possibly in order to make sure there would be room left in the salary cap to target Ablett this year.
That said, they would be hard pressed to satisfy Gold Coast in a trade, having already given up their 2017 first round pick as part of the deal to get Zach Tuohy, so that is a major question mark for them.
Whatever the price is though, it’d be worth it to Geelong. Ablett, Joel Selwood and Patrick Dangerfield may be one man short of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, but would inspire no less terror.
And of course, it’d just be a great win for footy traditionalists – regardless of how you feel about expansion, I wager we’d all agree that there’s little more pure and right in the game than an Ablett wearing white and navy blue hoops.
What does it mean for the Suns and Cats in 2017? For the Cats, it may mean that 2017 is a year of waiting, rather than a year of winning.
Personally, I’ve got my doubts about them as a side at the moment. They have two elite players at the middle, and then another at either end of the ground, which is nothing to sneeze at, but in a very competitive year it may not be enough to have a real impact.
Much like 2015 however, when they failed to make finals, they’ve got a big-name recruit on the horizon and fans of the felines may be content simply to lick their lips with anticipation.
For Gold Coast, it’s a potential headache – it’s probably almost a guaranteed headache. Whether Ablett plays well or poorly or not at all, Rodney Eade can expect regular questions at his pressers.
The Suns are in an odd position. They’re clearly in something of a “rebuild” – as much as a club that has never played finals can be said to be – yet Suns chairman Tony Cochrane says they can play a grand final in the next two or three years. There’s an identity crisis to be sure.
Making things all the more interesting is that the senior coaches of both clubs, Chris Scott and Rodney Eade, are both out of contract at the end of 2017. Noise has been made about re-signing Scott – Eade, not so much.
My predictions? Neither side will be a major player in the 2017 campaign, but both will cause plenty of talk at the end of the year. A change of coach for at least one seems a reasonably likely possibility, but most importantly, the Son of God will come again.