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‘Selfless’ Gaz gives more than he takes

After 16 seasons, two premierships, two Brownlows, and two AFL clubs, Gary Ablett will play his 300th AFL game this Saturday. One former teammate who played alongside him in the two premierships, Shannon Byrnes, provides a poignant insight into one of the sport’s greatest performers, in an exclusive column.

I arrived at the club one year after Gaz and we were the same age so he was someone I gravitated to pretty early, as you do.

Early days he was pretty quiet around the club, I guess that had a bit to do with the scrutiny around him being the son of Gary Ablett Snr.

He internalised that and kept to himself a little, but have no doubt, underneath all that was the person I know well today.

It wasn’t until after the first couple of years at the club that his personality came out because of the pressures that came in his first years of playing. From then on he was a lot more open to everyone, but early days you had to get to know him to understand what type of person he was.

That wasn’t him being rude or arrogant, it was just him keeping out of the spotlight and from all the pressure placed on him.

I go up to the Gold Coast once or twice a year and always make sure I catch up with him. He’s the type of guy that if you are in the area he is going to open his door to you. When I do actually visit he always picks me up from the airport, chauffeur style.

Gaz is someone who gives more than he takes.

I don’t think you can predict any player to become one of the greatest players of all-time but with Gaz you certainly saw glimpses of his brilliance at training, so you knew he had the potential to be something special. But it’s his drive that’s helped him to become the player he is today.

Personally, I’m not surprised he’s become one of the game’s greats.

The 2006 season was a difficult one for Geelong, it was almost a line in the sand moment for the group, we had played in semi and prelim finals and, I suppose going into that year, it felt like it was just going to happen for us.

When it didn’t happen it was a wake-up call as to whether we were ticking every box.

We were lucky to have a special talent like Gaz in the playing group; the whole team knew exactly what he was capable of. We had some pretty honest conversations after that season. One conversation that was held was how special Gaz could be if he took his training to the next level, like so many of us. It was just magnified for him because you could see the levels he took his game to in 2007.

That honesty certainly paid off as the team claimed the 2007 premiership, which is something I will be proud of for the rest of my life.

The names I played alongside in that grand final were special; Scarlett, Johnson, Bartel and Gary are obviously among the names I will tell the grandchildren I played with.

It was unbelievable for the town more so than anything, having to wait 44 years. Being able to win a premiership with that group is something you aren’t able to describe.

Obviously Gaz won the Brownlow in 2009 and to say he was deserving that year would be an understatement. I don’t think anyone could be more deserving of a Brownlow Medal, and if you ask me I think he was a bit stiff in a couple of other years. In my personal opinion I think he should have four, and that’s not over-exaggerating.

When Gaz left for the Gold Coast it was difficult because it’s always tough when teammates and good friends leave. In a sense of what the team lost it was big. Basically, we didn’t have one of the best players in the history of the game on our team anymore.

You always felt when the chips were down, there were go-to players that you could turn to and without Gaz in the side that was one less player we could rely on to produce in the big moments.

Being in the inner sanctum you could understand his motivations for having left the club and I certainly don’t hold any grudges towards him for doing that.

I guess you could say he was a bit of a larrikin around the place with some of his jokes and pranks, albeit they weren’t always as hilarious as he thought they were. I certainly missed the jokes and the little bits of competition he provided around the club, whatever we were doing he would turn into some sort of mini-competition. So I missed my partner in crime in that aspect.

After all that he has been through I think he has been an unbelievable servant for the club. To go up there, win another Brownlow and play the quality of football that he has with a young side is amazing. I don’t think the franchise could have asked for anymore from one player, he was certainly deserving of the move.

If I had to sum him up, I’d say that he is a very humble yet super competitive person who is not as good a dancer as he thinks and an absolute legend of the game.

As a mate, I’m unbelievably proud of what he has achieved. He should be, too.