This article was originally published on March 12, 2014.
Gold Coast Sun Zac Smith talks about his friendship with Gary Ablett Jnr, and why he’s not only the best player in the league, but one of the best blokes as well. This article featured in the AFL Players’ Year in Review 2013, which can be downloaded here.
Having grown up in a non-football background I probably didn’t fully understand the magnitude of Gary Ablett Jnr coming to the Suns, but it didn’t take me long to realise what all the fuss was about.
“AS A MAN OF FAITH MYSELF, I COULD SEE THAT GAZZ WASN’T ENTIRELY HAPPY. WE WOULD OFTEN CHAT FOR HOURS ABOUT LIFE AND GOD AND WHAT IT MEANT TO US” – Zac Smith
Gary arrived at the club in my first year at the SUNS, and after a month of him being on the coast, he called me. He had heard I had recently bought a house and wanted somewhere to stay for a ‘while’ until he sorted his own place. This ‘while’ ended up being the whole season, and we could play ping pong for hours or play ‘snap’ in between doorways with a mini footy, so I didn’t mind that he stayed so long because I loved having him around.
What I quickly learned about Gary is that he is a competitive beast. Not your typical aggressive type of beast, but whether it be playing ping pong, FIFA or just kicking the footy inside into your standard bedroom doors he will always turn everything into a contest – and generally he’ll be naturally bloody good at it.
There is no question his natural sporting ability has certainly helped him become a superstar, but few would realise the sacrifices he makes off the field, through his obsessive approach to training, diet and recovery, that have ensured he is able to back it up week after week.
Often on the drive home from training, Gary would insist we call into the service station, and re-appear with a bag of ice ready for an extra ice bath, or be on the phone organising an extra massage. As a young player, having the chance to get a behind-the-scenes look at the kind of preparation it takes to be an elite player was a real privilege.
He is always more than happy to share his knowledge as well, which is one of the reasons he is such a great leader. He has time for everyone, whether it be a teammate, a fan or a complete stranger. He will always stop for a chat and give them the time of day and while he is certainly one of the greatest players of all time, he is also one of the great blokes as well.
As a ruckman I’ve have had the privileged position of having a front row seat to the Gary Ablett Jnr Show, but time and time again he leaves me shaking my head in disbelief at what he is able to do on the football field. At each ruck contest he will tell me where he wants the ball, but even if we are not winning the tap, he backs his judgement and is able to make his way to the drop zone and the majority of the time will emerge with the ball even with a tagger scragging him all the way.
But it amazes me more how he has grown as a person off the field over the past few years. I have always known and heard that Gaz has a strong faith and is a man of God, but in his first season or two it didn’t really shine through him and he was quite shy about it and often not willing to talk much about it to others.
As a man of faith myself, I could see that Gaz wasn’t entirely happy. We would often chat for hours about life and God and what it meant to us. We started a life group – which is basically a group of us who catch up once a week and talk about how we are going with our faith and just life in general. Since this time Gaz has almost been a totally different person. He is no longer shy about his faith and gives all glory to God for everything he does – even if it is during his Brownlow Medal speech or on the Footy Show.