The Abletts: the best father-son combination in sports history?

Date: September 14, 2013 / Posted by Glenn Mitchell

Earlier this week Gary Ablett Junior won his fifth AFL Players’ Association MVP award.

No other player has won the award more than twice since its inception in 1982 with Chris Judd, Wayne Carey, Greg Williams and Michael Voss the only other multiple winners.

The award is voted upon by every player in the AFL who award votes on a 3-2-1 basis.

Ablett’s win was never really in doubt but his winning margin was astounding as the nearest to his 1479 votes was his former Geelong teammate Joel Selwood who polled 475, giving Ablett a winning margin of 1004 votes.

In the ten year history of the Australian Coaches Association Player of the Year Award, Ablett is the only multiple winner – 2007, 2008 and 2009 with the first and last of those coming in premiership years with Geelong.

Ablett is a $1.70 favourite to claim his second Brownlow Medal in two weeks’ time.

He is a guaranteed to earn his seventh All-Australian team selection this year.

Given he will not turn 30 until May he could well become the first player to earn All-Australian selection ten times.

If he earns selection again next season he will draw level with his father, Gary Senior.

Once again in recent times the question has been asked … Who is the better player – father or son?

Ablett senior was named in the AFL Team of the Century in 1996, one of only two active players to be accorded the honour alongside Stephen Silvagni.

He is a Hall of Fame inductee and had it not been for off-field indiscretions post-retirement he most likely would have been accorded legend status – it still may happen in the future.

Ablett Snr was a four-time All-Australian (captain in 1995) and won three Coleman Medals for the leading goal-scorer in the home-and-away season.

In 248 games he kicked 1030 goals (fifth all-time), despite playing only four seasons as a specialist full-forward.

Three times he kicked 14 goals in game and 45 times kicked seven or more.

In 1989 he set the record for the most goals in a final series with 27 including a Norm Smith Medal winning all-time record nine goals in a losing grand final.

The father was a 185cm, 97kg ball of muscle who thrilled crowds with his aerial skills and uncanny ability to know where the goals were.

His freakish abilities singlehandedly boosted ticket sales during his playing days as the turnstiles whirred with fans eager to get a glimpse of the man who was nicknamed ‘God’ for his innate ability.

The son is three centimetres shorter and ten kilograms lighter, and not the physically imposing player his father was, but he is a ball magnet having gathered 30 or more disposals in 89 of his 253 games.

Gary Snr was able to do things few could even contemplate while many argue that his son is a far more consistent player.

One thing is indisputable – they are both champions.

Ablett Snr has long been regarded as one of the ten-best players in the history of the game.

By the time junior retires he is likely to be in the same exalted company.

Most popular polls have Leigh Matthews as the greatest player of all-time, but who knows, Gary Ablett Jnr may one-day be seen as the best ever depending on what he produces in the next few years.

That begs the question, is the Ablett father-son pairing the greatest in the history of sport?

Many will argue that Australian Football is only a one-nation sport, but nonetheless, what they have achieved is amazing for they are arguably both in the top-10 in the code’s history.

There have been many father and son combinations in the sports world but few, if any, have possessed the collective brilliance and ability of the Abletts.

Indeed, many a son has been stilted by the enormous expectation that being the off-spring of a champion brings.

The AFL has had numerous outstanding father-son pairings – Ken and Dustin Fletcher, Serge and Stephen Silvagni, Tim and Jobe Watson – but none have had the collective brilliance of the Ablett duo.

On the world stage there has been plenty of two generation stars.

In Formula I there were the British father and son world champions Graham (1962 & ’68) and Damon Hill (1996).

Ice hockey produced the father-son combination of Bobby and Brett Hull who were both stars in the American NHL and while Brett was not the player his father was they are both inductees of the US Ice Hockey Hall of Fame.

Major League Baseball has produced the likes of Ken Griffey Snr and Jnr, Barry and Bobby Bonds, Cecil and Prince Fielder, yet none of those pairings would ever be in an all-time top-10.

Soccer’s twin generation royalty includes Valentino and Sandro Mazzola, Johan and Jordi Cruyff, Cesare and Paola Maldini, and Frank Lampard Snr and Jnr.

As outstanding as any of these combinations may have been, they do not stack up against the Abletts for the sheer ranking they individually hold in their chosen sport.

And with Gary Jnr still possessing another three or four seasons of top flight football the history of the Ablett father-son on-field show is still yet to be etched in stone.

It is worth remembering also that Gary Jnr’s elder brother Nathan’s brief flirtation in the AFL produced a premiership medallion in 2007.

For mine, only one father-son combination could perhaps threaten the Abletts mantle as the greatest in history.

North Korea’s former supreme leader Kim Jong-Il shot an 18-hole 38-under par total of 34 with 11 holes-in-one when he played his first round of golf in 1994 at the age of 52.

His son Kim Jong-un, now the country’s numero uno, is no slouch either with the stick in hand, with his country’s state-controlled media saying he too regularly produces holes-in-one each round.

Now, given that those feats have not yet been verified by the PGA, I’m sticking with the Abletts as the greatest father-son combination in the history of sport.

First published on The Roar – – on 13 September 2013

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