It's an oft-told story now. At the end of Geelong's ill-fated 2006 season, the underachieving club conducted a review into all of its on and off-field operations - and the playing group had a serious heart-to-heart.
It's now hard to believe that one of the players singled out was Gary Ablett. ''Gary was still a young player, and had more talent than any of us,'' his former captain Tom Harley said. ''The line of feedback was 'we really need you to take your game to another level'. It was more a challenge than a talking-down. It was, 'We'd love you to be our Chris Judd, our Luke Hodge'.
''I would suggest the thing that Gary is most proud of [is], he took that on board. He didn't sook or sulk about it - he just got on with it, and he appreciated the feedback, and he's just played unbelievable football from that point on.
''He hasn't missed an All-Australian side since; he's played in two flags, and I would argue he's now playing the best football of his career, which at 250 games is an unbelievable achievement.''
But, if the players' edict in late 2006 was the beginning of Ablett's transition from talented small forward to superstar, his move to the Gold Coast Suns - and his acceptance of the fledgling club's captaincy - has ultimately resulted in a more profound shift.
Has captaincy actually made Ablett a better player? Harley isn't sure, but it's possible that moving north helped convince him he was his own man; not the reincarnation of his old man. And in that sense, his growth has had a more important dimension.
''I don't know if it's helped my football,'' Ablett said on Tuesday. ''I know it's helped me a lot as a person outside football. It was obviously challenging coming here.
''I've had to change a lot of the ways I go about things, especially being around a young group. At Geelong we had so many senior players, we had so many leaders and it was easy to fit into that. Whereas here, [there's] a lot of 18-year-old kids and they follow everything you do and listen to everything you say. There's no doubt I've had to make changes, but at the same time, I've really enjoyed that role.''
Harley puts another spin on it. ''Who's to say, if he'd stayed at Geelong, whether he'd have developed as much as he has? He probably would have, and would have been a fantastic asset for the Geelong footy club, I'm sure, but there's no point even speculating on that.''
There was, however, another change at Geelong that was crucial to its ascent, and one that just might have held Ablett back as a future leader: the arrival of current captain Joel Selwood, who, as then-Brisbane coach Leigh Matthews said, looked as though he had already played 200 games.
''He walked into the footy club and he was just a born leader,'' Harley said.
''He's got that presence and those intangible qualities that leaders have. He was always really comfortable with being the figurehead.
Like Collingwood's Nathan Buckley, Ablett at the Suns has taken time to understand that not everyone is as technically as perfect as he is, and has had to learn the subtler skills of mentoring off the field, as well as on it.
''First, second and third-year players are inconsistent; they're going to have some ups, but they're going to have more downs than ups,'' Suns coach Guy McKenna says.
''It had to take a very special person and special leader to do what Gary has done, I think.
''Gary had to maintain the rage to be competitive, but he had to balance that with patience, because these boys aren't going to be as good as him in their first couple of seasons. For him to see through that and understand that is a special talent.''
Harley concurs. ''Watching from afar, there have been moments of frustration, you can tell that - he's a player [for whom] the game probably comes easier than some, but he's a fierce competitor.
''He was just waiting for everyone to catch up, as much as anything else. They've done that this year to a point, and again, he's taken his game to another level because he's got far greater support around him.''
More than anything, Harley says, it was Ablett's competitive lust that made it easy for him to accept his old teammate's insistence that the challenge of taking a new club to a premiership was at the heart of his desire to leave.
''One thing which disappointed me was people wouldn't necessarily give him the kudos he deserved when he said, 'Look, I really thrive on a challenge and I'm really attracted to the challenge of starting something new with a young group of players'.
''Hats off to him for having the courage to have a go.''