Things have come full circle for Gary Ablett.
Seventeen years after marking his debut in the hoops as a son of a great with a mop of blonde hair, he’s back in Geelong and playing in the forward 50 where it all began.
“It is pretty special to me, I didn’t know if I was going to get the opportunity to play footy here again,” Ablett says.
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The little master is sitting in the stands, overlooking the ground where he made his name his own.
While there are a lot of similarities to his first stint in Geelong, a lot has changed as well. The flowing blonde locks are gone and he’s a father now too.
“Life has changed in a big way being a dad now,” Ablett says.
“It’s something that’s really special – Levi is five and a half months old now and it’s amazing how much he’s changed in that time.
“It puts a lot of things into perspective. I get excited about driving home from training now and seeing my wife and family and seeing Levi.
“Something that’s important to me is quality time with family and I want to make sure that I’m there to see him grow. I’m really enjoying that family life – it’s my number one priority let’s put it that way.”
AFL football hasn’t stood still either.
“The game’s changed a lot in that time, from when I first started to now,” he says.
“I don’t think the game was as fast back then, that’s probably the biggest thing. Teams probably played a lot more one-on-one.”
“I enjoyed the game back then and I still enjoy it now. I’m confident the game is heading in a really good direction and I’m just really enjoying my time down forward at the moment.
While 18 seasons at the top level might have taken a toll on his body, Ablett is confident he’s picked up enough tricks along the way to stay as dangerous as he always has.
“The one thing that you don’t lose is your footy IQ,” he says.
“I’ve worked very hard on that over the years. Watching a lot of tape and spending plenty of time on the training track, I guess learning the basics of football. I’m confident that I can keep performing at a high level.”
Ablett has booted 22 goals already in the young season, becoming the oldest player to average over two goals and 20 touches over the first 10 rounds of the year.
It’s a level of excellence that the two-time Brownlow Medallist expects from himself.
“I wouldn’t say I’ve exceeded my expectations,” he says.
“I knew that if I was able to get my body right…I’d be able to perform at a high level.”
It was in a pre-season meeting with Chris Scott that the pair first discussed the move to send Ablett forward and lighten the physical load on his body.
“I wouldn’t say it was a surprise. I knew I was turning 35 this year and I’ve been playing through the midfield for a long time,” Ablett says.
“Down forward is a very different role from a midfielder… there still is a lot of running but it’s not as crash and bash.
“I could see last year that with all the little niggles I was struggling with last year I just really wanted to focus on having a good pre-season.
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Ablett’s deft ball use and goal-kicking nous is now a crucial part of the puzzle that has the Cats two games clear on top of the table.
He came to the club for this very reason, to add his veteran savvy to a team pushing the issue at the top end of the table.
“I’ve made it clear all along, the reason I’m here is to win a premiership. I’m doing everything I possibly can to do my part in that,” he says.
“There is a really good feeling amongst the group and there is that self-belief there and that confidence.”
That being said, the veteran Cat knows Geelong hasn’t achieved anything so far in 2019.
“We believe that we’re good enough to go all the way but grand finals, they’re hard to win. We still believe we’ve got a lot of hard work in front of us.
“We need to make sure that we’re not flirting with our form and every training session we got into, we’re getting something out of it and we’re learning and improving.
Whatever the outcome of 2019, a relaxed and positive Ablett is happy being back where it all started.
“Obviously I’m back at the club I’ve supported my whole life and played at for nine years before I moved away.
“I’m loving being back down in Geelong.”