GARY Ablett is entitled to feel a bit disenchanted with the industry that pays him so well.
He must be wondering what he has to do to keep the critics satisfied.
Gold Coast recruited Ablett in the first place because he was widely considered in the top three players in the competition.
My assessment is the Suns recruited the best player in the competition.
The AFL is filled with many great players, but the one I as a coach, and we at the Swans, had the most trouble with was Ablett.
His power, speed, endurance, amazing football IQ and skill meant you had to have a clear strategy for Ablett when you played the Cats.
Compounding the difficulty of finding a match-up was that he could play as a small crumbing forward, a leading full-forward or his traditional midfield role.
So often the first decision you had to make was whether you had a midfielder capable of playing on him when he switched to the forward line.
We tried several approaches over eight years, ranging from Kieren Jack as a shut-down player, the bigger bodied Ryan O’Keefe, and the more offensive Jarrad McVeigh.
That nothing ever seemed to work was not an indictment on those players — all are best-and-fairest winners — but a testament to Ablett’s greatness.
Gary is so strong, well balanced, quick and agile that with the amount of traffic around stoppages it is almost impossible to stop him in this area.
In his later years at Geelong, his teammates would block, shepherd and try to create extra space for him, making the tagger’s task almost impossible.
In space he has a great burst of speed that gives him time to deliver with accuracy to his forwards.
When he goes deep, he reads the ball so well, both on the lead and when crumbing. He has a remarkable knack of making a goal out of nothing.
This is who Gold Coast acquired in what was widely considered the greatest modern recruiting coup.
Some said that without the support of players such as Joel Selwood, Jimmy Bartel and Corey Enright, Gary would struggle to be the dominant player he was at Geelong. They said he would be far easier to tag out of games in the fledgling Suns team.
Ablett’s first year was exceptional. He continued to be one of the competition’s most dominant players.
His consistency and quality of performance was admired by all and he took his game to another level again.
Far from being a player who was going to struggle without his premiership teammates, he was the Suns’ shining light.
This season Ablett maintained his standing in the game until two weeks ago when he had 53 possessions against Collingwood.
Remarkably, a player who had the ability to get the ball 53 times in a team beaten by nearly 100 points was the subject of criticism and debate.
Much of that criticism revolved around where he got the ball and whether he was taking those possessions off younger players and stunting their development.
I’m sure both Suns coach Guy McKenna and Gary would love to see him get more ball in the front half, but it goes down there only if someone can deliver it there. If Gary is out of the midfield for long periods, will the ball find its way forward of centre?
We never criticise Selwood or Bartel for taking possessions off Steven Motlop, Allen Christensen, and the young Geelong players who have developed so well in the past few years.
Far from Ablett stunting the development of his young Suns teammates, he is providing a great role model for how hard you have to work both on and off the field to be a successful AFL player.
There is no question that had the Suns recruited more senior players, the youngsters would be further advanced in their development.
This is clearly highlighted when you look at the development of the younger players at teams such as Geelong, West Coast and Sydney.
Watching the Gold Coast versus St Kilda game live at Metricon Stadium last Saturday, I could almost see the frustration in Ablett after the previous week’s debate.
He finished that game with only 20 possessions and the criticism started about how quiet his game had been.
My message to Gary would be the same now as it was when he left Geelong.
You are a star. Ignore the criticism and continue to be a great leader and a great role model for your young teammates.
Clearly, there are many challenges the Suns need to meet in order to rise up the AFL ladder.
Some problems are more obvious than others. But far from being a problem, Ablett is, and will continue to be, the solution.
ABLETT BY THE NUMBERS
SuperCoach points 133.7 1
Disposals 35.7 1
Kicks 20.4 1
Metres gained 618m 1
Contested possessions 16.4 1
Handballs 15.2 3
Inside-50s and rebound-50s 8.6 3
Clearances 6.8 5
Uncontested possessions 18.3 9
Tackles 5.1 39
HIS SUPERCOACH SEASON
RD OPPONENT SCORE AVE $ $CHANGE
1 Adelaide 139 139 $689,000 $0
2 St Kilda 143 141 $689,000 $0
3 Essendon 182 154 $708,000 $19,000
4 Bris Lions 134 149 $721,400 $13,400
7 GWS 125 144 $721,900 $500
8 W Bulldogs 150 145 $708,500 -$13,400
9 Port Adelaide 111 140 $688,300 -$20,200
10 Collingwood 155 142 $685,100 -$3200
11 St Kilda 64 133 $644,000 -$41,100
* Ablett DNP in Rounds 5-6