A look back at Gary Ablett Jr’s time at the Gold Coast Suns

mastermind5991 Roar Guru

By , mastermind5991 is a Roar Guru

Tagged:
 , ,

6 Have your say

    Get excited Geelong fans, because the Little Master is finally coming home.

    After seven years, over 100 games, four best-and-fairests and a Brownlow Medal at the Gold Coast Suns, the ‘son of God’, Gary Ablett Jr, has been granted a trade back home to where it all started.

    It means the 34-year-old is all but certain to finish his AFL career at Kardinia Park, where he created so many memories throughout the noughties that will forever live in the hearts of Cats fans.

    It will see him united with 2016 Brownlow Medallist Patrick Dangerfield and captain Joel Selwood, forming the ‘Big Three’ and a potential ‘Dream Team’ that will be hard to beat in 2018.

    But first, let’s take the time to look back at what has been, to say the very least, a tumultuous seven years on the Gold Coast for Gary Ablett Jr

    As each day passed by during 2010, speculation started to grow over the future of the then-recently minted Brownlow Medallist, who was to come out of contract at the end of that season.

    In March that year, eyebrows were raised when the Gold Coast Bulletin released a poster with a photoshopped image of Ablett in a Suns jersey, with the slogan “Dare to Dream”.

    It boasted, “If you want to see the AFL’s greatest player in a Gold Coast Football Club jersey in 2011 then sign up now”.

    The Suns themselves maintained that they had no say in this poster, though then-CEO Travis Auld offered his opinion on it, saying that “it is wonderful the Gold Coast Bulletin and the Gold Coast is firmly behind the Gold Coast Football Club being successful”.

    Six months after that poster was released, the Cats’ bid for a third premiership in four years ended with the club losing a preliminary final against Collingwood by 41 points at the MCG.

    Then, a week later, the Cats’ worst fears were confirmed when it was announced that Ablett would leave Kardinia Park after having signed a five-year, $9 million contract with the Gold Coast Suns.

    He made the move knowing that there would be risks associated with offering his hand in setting up the AFL’s 17th franchise, some of which included leaving a highly successful club and knowing that he and his new club would cop some criticism and heavy defeats along the way.

    His achievements in the game saw him named captain of the club, while he switched from the #29 he wore at the Cats to #9.

    And so began what promised to be an intriguing journey for Ablett at the Gold Coast Suns.

    After a first-round bye to start the 2011 season, life officially began for the club when they were pitted against Carlton, whose captain Chris Judd was to play his 200th AFL game, at the Gabba on April 2.

    Fears of a lopsided result pre-match turned out to be true when, in front of 27,914 fans, the Blues kicked nine goals to one in the first quarter en route to an embarrassingly easy 119-point win.

    Charlie Dixon, now at Port Adelaide, entered the record books as the first ever player to kick a goal for the Suns, while Ablett gathered 23 disposals in his first official outing for his new club.

    While it was the best way for the Blues to celebrate Judd’s milestone match, for the Suns it was proof that they still had a long way to go if they were to succeed and survive in the AFL.

    For Ablett, it was a massive departure from the glory days he enjoyed at the Geelong Cats, his old club having won two of the previous four flags (and were on their way to a third in five years under first-year coach Chris Scott).

    Despite the lopsided result, opposition coach Brett Ratten said at the time that the Suns would eventually develop a winning mentality, some way or the other.

    “They (Gold Coast) have a lot of young kids and a lot of talent; they will be a lot better than that”, he said after the match.

    “Guy [McKenna, the inaugural coach of the Suns] has a great group and they will bounce back, they will win games of football, there is no doubt about it.”

    It would not take long for the Suns to register their first win in the AFL, when they travelled to AAMI Stadium to face Port Adelaide on a Saturday afternoon in Round 5.

    They had to do it the hard way, though, coming from 40 points down deep in the third quarter to pull a miracle out of the hat, winning by three points after Port’s Justin Westhoff missed a set shot at goal after the final siren.

    Suns player Gary Ablett

    (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)

    Ablett gained his first Brownlow Medal votes as a Sun, earning the maximum three votes for his instrumental role in the comeback whereby he gathered 26 disposals.

    All up, Ablett would play at least 90 per cent of game time in 19 of the 20 matches he played, the only exception being in Round 16 against the Sydney Swans when he suffered a knee injury and was subbed out in the first quarter.

    He earned 23 Brownlow Medal votes, finishing equal fifth with Chris Judd, who had won the previous year’s medal.

    Ablett would again play 20 games in 2012, earning maximum Brownlow Medal votes in each of the first three matches of the season, as well as in Round 10 against Collingwood where he gathered a record-equalling 53 disposals in a 97-point defeat at the MCG.

    He also won the Marcus Ashcroft Medal (as well as three Brownlow votes) for being best-on-ground in the fourth QClash, which doubled as the first one to be played at Metricon Stadium (after three previous clashes at the Gabba).

    The 24 votes he earned during the season saw him finish fifth in the 2012 Brownlow Medal count.

    But it was the 2013 season in which Gary Ablett Jr would take his game to a whole new level, as he claimed his second Brownlow Medal ahead of former teammate (and now Geelong captain) Joel Selwood.

    He played all but one match for the season and gained the maximum three votes in the final round against the GWS Giants at home to take Charlie home for the second time, outlasting Selwood by just a single vote (28 to 27).

    During that season, he returned to Kardinia Park for the first time in a Suns jersey and after he kicked a miraculous goal from the pocket in the final quarter (similar to his effort against the Brisbane Lions in 2009), the crowd stood and cheered as one.

    He also claimed the club’s best-and-fairest award for the third consecutive season.

    This coincided with a much-improved season for the Gold Coast Suns, in which they finished 14th with eight wins, one of which included their first win at the MCG against an injury-ravaged Melbourne side by ten goals.

    Expectations were high for Ablett and the Suns entering the 2014 season; on the back of their eight-win season the previous year, many believed they could finally reach the finals for the first time.

    By the time they faced Collingwood at Metricon Stadium in Round 16, they sat eighth on the ladder with eight wins and a percentage of 101.2. Ablett had earned 22 Brownlow Medal votes and was on track to become the first man since Robert Harvey in 1997-98 to successfully defend the medal.

    While the Suns went on to win by five points, they did so after Ablett suffered a serious shoulder injury midway through the third quarter; it would end his season and any hope he had of winning a third Brownlow Medal.

    The club would only win one more match for the rest of the year and despite achieving their best season in the AFL, finishing 12th with ten wins, inaugural coach Guy McKenna would be given his marching orders at year’s end.

    Veteran coach Rodney Eade would later be installed as coach, and he challenged his star player to become “the Michael Jordan of the AFL”.

    He would make his comeback from a shoulder injury against Melbourne in the opening round of the 2015 season, but endured a quiet return, with heavy tagging work from Demon Jack Viney seeing him finish with 19 disposals.

    After the Round 2 loss to St Kilda, Ablett would not play another game until Round 14, but returned with a vengeance, gathering 31 disposals (his highest tally for the year) in a 55-point win over North Melbourne at home.

    A knee injury suffered early in the Round 17 loss to the Adelaide Crows at the Oval three weeks later would see his season come to another premature end; he played just six games and earned five Brownlow Medal votes, making it his lowest-voting season since 2006.

    He returned to play fourteen games in 2016, missing only the Round 9 loss to the Crows at home. Again, a shoulder injury would bring an early end to his season in Round 16, but it was different to the one that he suffered in 2014.

    At the end of the season, the Little Master requested a trade back home to the Geelong Cats, but neither the Suns or Cats could agree to a trade and he eventually stayed on the Gold Coast for one more season.

    He then stepped down as the club’s captain, passing the baton to Steven May and Tom Lynch. At that point he was unsure as to whether he would play on past the 2017 season.

    Early this season, Ablett attracted criticism from all corners following a poor performance against the GWS Giants in Sydney, in which he gathered just 16 disposals (his lowest output for the year) in the Suns’ 102-point loss.

    Gary Ablett Gold Coast Suns AFL 2016

    (AAP Image/Julian Smith)

    There was talk that he appeared “disinterested” against the Giants, this coming after a deal couldn’t be struck to trade him back home to Geelong the previous October.

    However, he and the club would bounce back the following week, thrashing Hawthorn by a club-record 86 points with Ablett earning three Brownlow Medal votes for his 36 disposals.

    He would also earn maximum votes against North Melbourne in Round 6 (45 disposals) and again against Hawthorn in Round 12 (37 disposals), as well as two in his milestone 300th match against the Roos in Round 15 (37 disposals).

    His final game for the Suns (as well as that of Rodney Eade as coach) would come against Fremantle in Round 20; despite his 33 disposals, he couldn’t attract any votes from the umpires.

    While he only managed 14 games for the season, he did enough to claim his fourth and final best-and-fairest award at the Gold Coast Suns.

    At the end of the season, he again asked for a trade back to the Geelong Cats, citing family reasons, and it wasn’t until the final half-hour of the trade period that he was finally granted his wish to return home to Kardinia Park.

    His eldest sister, Natasha, passed away during the first week of trade period, further highlighting Ablett’s desire to return home to be closer to family.

    When the trade was made official, the Geelong Cats tweeted this:

    And it wasn’t long until the streets of Geelong started celebrating his imminent return to the town where he made a name for himself in 192 games between the club between 2002 and 2010.

    Back at the Suns, CEO Mark Evans paid tribute to him for his contribution to the club in seven seasons between 2011 and 2017.

    “It’s important for the Gold Coast Suns, and for Queensland football, to acknowledge Gary’s contribution to the club”, he said.

    “He’s been a terrific servant, just a great player, we completely respect and understand the circumstances as to why he’s asked to return to Victoria and we wish him and (wife) Jordan and all of his family the very best.”

    In the end, while the Suns could not achieve the success they thought they would with Gary Ablett Jr, who was at the peak of his powers when he joined the club at the end of the 2010 season, in their side, they will forever be grateful for the experience and leadership he brought to the club.

    Gary Ablett Geelong Cats AFL

    (Photo by Mark Dadswell/Getty Images)

    However, the second half of his time at the Suns will also be remembered for the wrong reasons, including criticism of his leadership as well as the injuries which restricted him to 34 out of a possible 66 games between 2015-17.

    The 34-year-old will slot back into a Geelong Cats side now led by captain Joel Selwood, who was in his fourth season when they last played together, as well as 2016 Brownlow Medallist Patrick Dangerfield.

    They have already been dubbed the ‘Big Three’ and it will now remain to be seen how these three superstars work in tandem going forward, as the Cats look to break a seven-year premiership drought in 2018.

    Having fallen a game short of the grand final in each of the past two seasons, Ablett could prove to be the missing piece in the Cats’ premiership puzzle.

    He has signed a two-year contract with the Cats, after which it is certain he will retire from the game.

    And so, can the Geelong Cats make the most of his homecoming, which was met with rejoice from not just the club’s fans, but also the local Geelong community, and claim a premiership in either 2018 or 2019?

    We will all wait to see with anticipation now that their favourite son is back at “the greatest team of all”.

    The Ashes are here! After all the build-up, follow all the first Test action between Australia and England with our Ashes live scores and blog.