How much will Gary Ablett be worth at the end of the season?
Date: April 17, 2015 / Posted by Glenn Mitchell
It was a case of the mind being willing but the body unable to follow suit.
In the end there was only one decision that could be made – the dual Brownlow medallist is now on an indefinite sabbatical from the game that he has dominated over the past decade.
Suns’ football manager Marcus Ashcroft, when asked about Ablett’s short-term future, said “We haven’t put an immediate timeline on it, we’ll play it week by week”.
Only minutes into the Suns’ opening game of the season against Melbourne it was evident that Ablett was a long way shy of full fitness.
Instead of bursting through packs he was looking to avoid them.
More often than not he was thrusting just one arm at the contest for his reconstructed left shoulder – the result of an injury incurred in round 16 last year – was still unable to withstand the rigours of an AFL game.
Ablett was still a contributor – he collected 19 disposals in the opening round and 23 the following week against the Saints – but his impact was well below the stellar level he has set in recent years.
The most worrying thing for the Suns, and the man himself, is the fact that most players have fully recovered nine months hence a shoulder reconstruction.
The Gold Coast skipper said after round one that he was willing to play through the pain.
But after last week’s game it was decided that it was not just the pain that was an issue but also the fact that he had lost significant mobility in the joint.
The question now is whether we will see Ablett return to his previous level again?
For the past eight years he has been an All-Australian – an unequalled feat.
He won his first Brownlow as a Cat in 2009, added a second as a Sun in 2013 and looked destined for a third last season before his shoulder gave way.
After 16 rounds last year he had racked up 22 votes and despite sitting out the remaining seven rounds he finished just four votes short of the eventual winner, Matt Priddis.
Despite bypassing the NAB Cup and only engaging in full-on tackling drills in the fortnight between the end of the pre-season competition and the start of the season proper he still entered the year as the Brownlow Medal favourite with several betting agencies.
Now, just a fortnight into the premiership season, his dreams of a third ‘Charlie’ this year have been completely dashed.
In fact, his dreams of a third Brownlow may have now totally evaporated.
If he was to snatch it next year he would be the oldest player to have won the medal.
Throughout his career he has proven to be an exceptionally durable player with his 270 career games only bettered by three others from the 2001 Draft – Nick Dal Santo (287 games, although currently sidelined for 6-8 weeks with a hamstring injury) and Chris Judd and Jimmy Bartel (both 273).
Along with Judd, his 209 career Brownlow votes places him equal third all-time behind Gary Dempsey and Robert Harvey.
In sport, it is always risky to right off a champion, and Ablett has certainly is one.
He comes out of contract with the Suns at the end of this season.
Understandably the fledgling club is keen to retain his services and there are reports that a three-year, $3m contract extension is on the table.
Ablett had previously put negotiations on hold sparking rumours that he may be considering finishing his career elsewhere.
His club of origin, Geelong, has publicly stated that it would welcome Ablett back.
No doubt most of the other AFL clubs would want his services as well.
Should he continue to delay signing a new deal with the Suns it may have the same destabilising effect on the club that his refusal to commit to Geelong had in the back half of the 2010 season before he finally announced he was heading north.
His relationship with his Mark Thompson – who guided him to two premierships while at the cattery – was severely strained and resulted in the coach throwing out barbs in the media.
Should Ablett’s absence from the field stretch to months, rather than weeks, it will doubtless have a bearing on whether Gold Coast is prepared to commit to a $1m per year deal.
There is no doubting that Gary Ablett still has a lot to offer the game and whoever it is who employs him beyond this year, but with every week that he fails to play his market value will be under scrutiny.
Prior to round 16 last year he was a rolled-gold, guilt-edged star and nothing will ever erase that fact.
But presently, there is a considerable unknown as to what his future output will be.
With the club having ruled out any further need for surgery Ablett will reappear at some stage later this season.
And when he does, all eyes will be on him to see how he fares the second time around.
First published on The Roar – theroar.com.au – on 16 April 2015