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Gary Ablett Sr

Gary Robert Ablett, senior (born October 1, 1961) is a retired Australian Rules football player. Widely considered one of the greatest and most gifted football players of all time, he is credited with having had the capacity to thrill more fans than any other player during his day with his performances, where his mercurial skillset allowed him to dominate Australian football for almost a decade. After a debut season with Hawthorn, Gary left the club. The Geelong Football Club managed to lure Ablett back to the VFL in 1984, where he eventually settled down to become arguably football's biggest superstar of the late '80s and early '90s. While renowned for his spectacularly eye-catching style of play, Ablett's reputation as one of few players in the game's history with the ability to have combined high marking skills, explosive pace, and prodigious two-sided kicking skills was shadowed by an inability to win the game's biggest prize on four occasions - a premiership.

Nonetheless, 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 Leigh Matthews Trophy as the AFLPA MVP, three Coleman Medals, nine 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, booting 9 goals 1 behind in 1989, and is the only player to have won a Coleman Medal and kicked 100 goals in three consecutive seasons. In 2006, Ablett was voted by all past and present Geelong Football Club players as the greatest Geelong footballer of all-time.

Early life

Born in Drouin to Alfred and Colleen Ablett, Gary Ablett grew up in Victoria's Gippsland region alongside his four elder brothers and three sisters. The youngest child in the family, Ablett displayed a love of sport at an early age, winning the state school high jump at ten-years old, and awarded both club and competition best and fairest awards for Drouin at the under 11's, under 12's and under 14's. At the age of fifteen Ablett dropped out of high school, citing waning interest, to become a bricklayer's labourer.

By sixteen, Ablett was playing for the Drouin seniors alongside his brothers, making several country league representative games along the way, before 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.

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 underlining factor in his decision to leave the club and head to the country town of Myrtleford.

It wasn't long, however, before Ablett's 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 country-based city of Geelong.

After several unsuccessful appeals by Hawthorn, Ablett finally completed a $60,000 transfer to Geelong.

The early years: Geelong 1984-90

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. 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. 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 All-Australian honours and 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. 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. 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', 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 lucurative five-year contract that would tie him to the club for the long-term.

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 proceeded to boot 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.

Gary Ablett flies for a mark during the famous match against essendon in round 3, 1993 - during which he kicked 14 goals 7 behinds.
Gary Ablett flies for a mark during the famous match against essendon in round 3, 1993 - Gary kicked 14 goals 7 behinds.

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. 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.

Against the powerhouse Hawthorn side, 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 only 12 at the end of the third quarter, and 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'. Although he had enjoyed another top-three placing in the club Best & Fairest award and All-Australian honours 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.

The second coming: Geelong 1991-97

Ablett was encouraged, however, to overturn his decision, and after 5 months removed 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 wih 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, he agreed to the permanent switch up forward, relenquishing 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 more game 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 season end total of 124 goals, achieved in just 17 appearances, earned him his first Coleman Medal as the League's leading goal-scorer to go with his Leigh Matthews Trophy as the AFLPA MVP for the season, 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.

Second Retirement

At the end of the 1997 season Ablett announced that he would be retiring.

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