Inky and I have been Geelong Cats fans for 5 years now. The first of those years ('05) saw a scrappy young club announce its arrival to the footy world, while the next found them floundering and being dismissed. Over the last 3 years they have won 65 of the 75 games they have played and 2 of the 3 league championships. Even though we only got to see one of those games in person, and even though they lost that one, we love the Cats. We've watched them play on TV and the Web and listened to their games on radio via the net when watching was not possible. We've even read all about their phenomenal run from '07 to '09 in a great book, which Inky read all 390 pages of in just one day.
Long story short. We're invested.
And it's not just the team that we love, the players are also great on their own individual merit. They are all great examples of what can happen when a group of highly skilled individuals each play off one anothers strength to make the team that much stronger. They are the classic proof to the saying "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts." There is one part, however, who's sum is bald-head and shoulders above the rest of his mates.
It's no secret that Gary Ablett Jr. is the best player in the league. He is the type of player and man that any team would kill to have on their side. As such, the new expansion club that begins play next year is trying to lure Ablett away from his hometown team. The Gold Coast is reportedly offering "Gazza" twice the money Geelong can afford, due to salary cap concessions they will enjoy as a new club. So Ablett is confronted with the same problem The Clash wrestled with back in the early 80's: "should I stay or should I go?"
Compounding the issue for Ablett is his very name. He is Gary Ablett Jr, the son of Gary Ablett Sr who is considered one of the greatest players in the history of the AFL. Junior was brought to the Cats as a Father-Son Pick, which meant the team could sign him without exposing him to the amateur draft. The young Ablett had to agree to the signing, which he did, which is, in and of its self, kind of amazing. Here he was the son of a famous father, trying to make it in the same sport, let alone the same jumper.
Over the last 8 years the younger Ablett has begun to put himself on the same level as his impossibly famous dad. He is recognized as the best player in the game today and despite only being 25 he is already being thought about as one of the best ever. There are very few instances in the world where a father and a son have both been considered to be all time greats. It's certainly not true of the Griffy's, or Bonds' who both are a little heavy on the greatness scale in favor of the son. And while both Barry Bonds and Griffy Jr played a portion of their careers for their fathers clubs, they didn't start there and have to deal with the expectations right off the bat. Rather, they got to become huge stars elsewhere and then "come home" as it were.
The closest thing to the Abletts I can come up with is Bobby and Brett Hull. Both had Hall of Fame careers, but no one would ever consider Brett one of the best of his era, let alone of all time. And while Brett eventually played 5 games in his dad's old #9 sweater, it was with the Phoenix Coyotes who had moved from Winnipeg where Bobby had been the most famous player. Gary Jr may have eschewed his dad's #5 jumper for his own #29, but that is just about all he has, save the Jr and a different position, to separate him. He has the same name, in the same small provincial town and wears the same exact blue and white hoops.
When it comes to Ablett the younger's success he has certainly not been helped in getting there by his famous name. Dale Earnhardt Jr. initially got all the help he needed in getting established in NASCAR and following the tragic death of his father, he got a ready made army of fans while in just his second year. They have pulled for him despite the fact that he has won only 18 races and no Cup titles in his 10 years, hardly an impressive return. In the case of Ablett, more has always been expected of him because of his name. He was a standout U18 player who would have been drafted highly by another club had either he or Geelong decided to pass up the father/son option.
In the end, Gary Ablett Jr is a quintessential Geelong success story. He lives just down the road in Torquay which is home to the world famous Bells Beach which is one of the greatest surfing beaches in all the world. Why would he need to leave all that behind to go to the Gold Coast in Queensland, where the waves are not as good, the footy team is brand new and where he is not the son of the town's favorite sons?
In the end, if he leaves, it will be all because of money. The Gold Coast team can pay him twice what Geelong can, and there are few people in the world who could turn down an offer such as that based solely on principals, loyalty and comfort. Gary Ablett Jr is one of the people who can do that, however, and I hope and pray he does. Inky and I are planing on seeing the Cats in person again in 2011 and it would kill me if they run out without Gazza in their line up.
And I never even got the chance to see his old man play. Imagine how much it would hurt those who did.