Four years after becoming Gold Coast's No. 1 recruit, Gary Ablett will miss out on leading the club into its first-ever finals series after electing to undergo reconstructive surgery on his left shoulder.
Ablett decided on Wednesday to put the long-term functionality of his shoulder ahead of his determination to help his teammates make it to September, and a possible third Brownlow Medal.
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Gary Ablett out for the rest of the season
Gold Coast Suns skipper Gary Ablett will miss the rest of the AFL season after dislocating his shoulder in a tackle on Saturday night.
The onballer was advised by specialists that he risked further damaging the shoulder by having minor surgery to clean the joint out and a few weeks off, before rejoining the team on the eve of the finals.
Ablett's manager, Liam Pickering, said surgeon Greg Hoy had told Ablett that while he could spend the next four or five weeks strengthening the shoulder and play again, there was an 80 per cent chance it would dislocate again.
Ablett has been the clear Brownlow favourite all season, but dislocated his shoulder during the third quarter of the Suns' win over Collingwood last Saturday when tackled by Brent Macaffer.
Scott Pendlebury replaced him as a $3 Brownlow favourite after his decision was announced on Wednesday, with Ablett easing from $1.60 this time last week to the $8 third favourite behind the Collingwood skipper and Sydney's Josh Kennedy.
Ablett flew to Melbourne to see Hoy after scans on Monday cleared him of bone damage, and said he needed to make the best long-term decision. He was scheduled for surgery on Thursday.
"We have been extremely thorough in our review of the injury, and after careful consideration, reconstructive surgery was the decision to make, but the correct one," Ablett said in a statement.
"This is the most significant injury of my playing career, and we have made the decision in the interest of my long-term playing career.
"It has been a very difficult decision, in particular as there is a temptation to compromise my shoulder's long-term movement, in a bid to get back and assist the team to make our first finals appearance."
Gold Coast football manager Marcus Ashcroft said the club's priority had always been to ensure Ablett did not risk further damage by trying to play again this year.
The 30-year-old's five-year contract expires at the end of next season, but the club has already begun discussing an extension with his manager Liam Pickering.
"Basically Gary had two options. Option one was the one he's taken, which is to have the surgery done and come back next year with it all fixed up," Ashcroft said.
"Option two was to have minor clean-up surgery and try and get him back, but there were risks involved with that and after talking it through with Gary, the specialist and people here we decided we needed to take the longer-term approach.
"He's really disappointed he's not going to play and the chance to be there for his teammates in the finals really weighed on him, but we want to make sure he comes back at 100 per cent, without risking any more damage."
Ablett has missed just five games since he joined the club ahead of its debut season in 2011, and the Suns have lost all of them, but held on after he, Charlie Dixon, Trent McKenzie and Sean Lemmens were injured on Saturday.
"Everyone loves watching Gary play, but now everyone has a chance to step up and see what they can do," Ashcroft said. "You can never rely totally on one player, and this is a good challenge for everyone else to take on."
Michael Rischitelli will captain the Suns in their game against the Western Bulldogs this week, with the role to then be rotated through the leadership group.
While confident Ablett would have already gathered enough votes to be a chance on Brownlow night, Pickering said he had been more worried about playing at less than full capacity, with the shoulder his first major injury.
"He's got two (Brownlows) already. He doesn't think like that. People may think that's the case with individual players but that's very rare. He would have been more worried about coming back and playing in the finals than winning the Brownlow," Pickering said on SEN.
"I'm interested to see how it plays out on Brownlow Medal night, but I think that's the furthest thing from Gary's mind at the moment, it's more about getting the shoulder right, getting the surgery tomorrow and making sure it recovers properly so he's ready to go for a big 2015."