I knew that something was missing from this season. I knew it, I knew it, I bloody knew it. I’d commented a few times to mates about how annoying it was hearing all the Fyfe love when Ablett wasn’t there to defend his title. It was annoying, and I had commented about it, but I had missed something crucial. I had missed how awesome it is to watch him play.
Despite my normally negative viewpoint, I’ve been happy to note that the 2015 AFL season has actually been pretty exciting. The style of play has been less stodgy, there have been plenty of upsets, some surprise teams surging up the ladder, and of course my own team finding some much needed consistency. But with all that, there was just something off, and that was the lack of Ablett weaving his magic.
They asked was 2015 Fyfe better than 2007-14 Ablett? Absurd, but yes it was asked. They questioned his leadership as the team he could not play for fell extraordinarily short of expectations. They questioned his decision-making and commitment when he chose to not return from injury before he was no longer injured.
It seems that with Gary Ablett, no matter what he achieves, there is always something he must prove with the media. I recall a game in 2012, his second year at the Suns, when he had 53 possessions and was criticised for chasing cheap kicks. This was against a side that had smashed all comers in the previous season only to lose the Grand Final, and would go on to a Preliminary Final that year. His side was full of kids and was routinely getting smashed and would go on to finish second bottom above only the brand new GWS, with only three wins. The ball was clearly in the backline and Ablett was the only player in his side capable of getting the ball against such opposition. Still, his 53 disposals were met with criticism.
In the previous season, Scott Thompson of Adelaide, by then a seasoned veteran of the AFL midfield, had beaten up on a weary and deflated bunch of Suns kids that were clearly the worst in the league and ready for the end of the season. He amassed 51 possessions, a statistic the media used to prove his standing in the game. For Ablett, 53 possessions against a good team wasn’t good enough, but for Thompson, 51 possessions against a bunch of beaten down kids was seen as a defining moment.
Every year they put forward someone as better than him, and every year he comes back and shuts them up. This year he came back with an extraordinary exclamation mark. In Round 16 last season, when his shoulder was wrecked to the point of needing a reconstruction, he was streets ahead of the field in the race for the Brownlow Medal and his side was sitting comfortably inside the top eight, having recorded nine wins. Seven rounds later at the end of the season, the Suns were 12th, having only won one more game. By the time he returned this year for Round 13, his side had only won one game and were right down the bottom of the ladder.
Of course, his return to the field with the confidence of almost full fitness resulted in 33 possessions and three goals. Poor North Melbourne, how unlucky, for most importantly for the struggling Suns, it resulted in a win. His teammates are better with him on the ground, as they get better passes in their direction and better is made of their passes when he is on the receiving end. They would feel like there is always an out for them, like he will fix things. The result of that would surely be that they play with more confidence, with more flair and daring. Him being out there is a natural lift. For me, it is just damn exciting.
I heard the first half of the game on the radio on the way home from the Tigers v Giants game, and managed to watch most of the second half. The trip home I had a happy buzz, a rekindling of something burnt out. The commentators were watching the little master do his stuff and were remembering what they’d forgotten in his absence – he’s something else entirely.
I got that familiar excitement of wanting to see if something remarkable would happen, and I turned on the TV as soon as I got home. I was greeted with two sublime goals in the last quarter, the second of which made me laugh. I rewound it afterwards and showed it to Trina.
“I knew this was a goal five seconds before he got it,” I told her.
Ablett had seen the play unfolding before him at centre half forward and moved to the defensive side of the player set to receive the ball, parallel with the goals. His teammate seemed elated to have him there, as he was guaranteed some nice stats (effective disposal, goal assist etc.); he gave the handball and Ablett zoomed on an angle toward goal and launched from outside the 50 metre arc. There was never a doubt. No-one watching had the slightest doubt about the result of that kick.
I laughed. Part of watching elite sport is enjoying watching the absolute best do things repeatedly that you can not. Ablett is the best at making us all feel completely and totally ordinary. He makes his competitors look ordinary, and he makes his teammates much much better. It’s bloody good to have him back. If he’s injured again, or god-forbid retires, let’s try to not forget how awesome he is.