'Whispers from within the Suns tell me that there is one rule for Gary Ablett and one rule for the rest of the players.' Photo: Getty Images
Are there two sets of rules when it comes to star players at clubs? Do they get preferential treatment to others? The answer is yes. It’s undeniable. It’s been a part of sport for eternity.
While the landscape has changed in the way clubs and coaches go about their business, some still have their untouchables.
You only have to look at the Essendon situation and their favourite son James Hird. Would anyone else other than Hirdy still be at the club if he wasn’t one of the Bombers’ most loved?
By no means am I suggesting that he shouldn’t be there until the ASADA case is done and dusted, but who, other than Hird, would have survived this far?
Which leads me to the best player in the competition and arguably the best onballer the game has seen, Gary Ablett.
No one is disputing how good Ablett is and how well he prepares for the game. In fact it’s obvious that his individual preparation that includes his diet, lifestyle and recovery results in exceptional performances. Although recent murmurings coming out of Queensland make me wonder if there is actually still room for improvement for the dual Brownlow medallist.
Whispers from within the club’s walls tell me that there is one rule for Ablett and one rule for the rest of the Suns players. They can be the smallest things, yet mean so much to an impressionable, young and talented group. Important to the team success is that the captain attends all team sessions; weights, ice baths, recovery and warm-up sessions, and also accepts criticism from the coach in front of the group.
The captain preferring to warm-up for training sessions by shooting hoops doesn’t send the right message to the team. Although these sessions may not sound as important as his on-field leadership, they still have a profound effect on such a young group.
They teach players to learn about their body and how to best prepare it for sustainable success on the ground, which Ablett clearly does very well. They’re also lessons about responsibility, dedication, hard work and humility.
I’m not suggesting that there is discontent at the Suns, but there is certainly whispers among the playing group that “that’s Gary and Gary can get away with it because, well, he’s Gary!”
In hindsight, I now see clearly that rules were also bent for me. Although not the same rules, it still created a form of elitism. Jibes in the locker room ensued and I was nicknamed at one point Steve Seagal – ''above the law''.
In the thick of it, there are many people in football clubs that don’t have the courage to confront their star players and tell them where it’s really at.
The Suns’ coach, Guy McKenna, will deny any suggestion his superstar is getting preferential treatment, but to hear the murmurs within the club tells me that the rules may be being bent for the Gold Coast champion.
It’s easy to see why Ablett would be afforded special treatment and his every wish. He’s been a star for the club both on and off the field. He earns more $1 million a year and is worth that and more.
The impact that he’s had on the playing group in his brief years at the Suns has transformed them into a genuinely competitive team. From afar, he appears the epitome of what leadership is all about on the ground.
McKenna should be doing everything in his power to ensure Ablett remains just one of the boys and that all of his excellence in preparation is passed on to his teammates in every session, all of the time.
Ablett might not like, or agree, with some of the sessions the Suns undertake, but he should do them regardless.
He might not like some of the feedback coming his way, but he should take it on the chin. If he has a problem with it, then he should address it privately.
The single most important factor about footy is that it’s a team game and you’ll usually find that the really good teams are absolutely united in everything they do.
Preferential treatment to any player can cause small fractures.
If there are issues at the Suns, then I wonder how it is affecting the playing group and how they view their coach? Could there be resentment? Will some of these talented, gifted, future stars of the competition expect the same set of rules when they reach the same level as Gazza?
Could you imagine Nathan Buckley or Chris Scott bending the rules for Scott Pendlebury or Joel Selwood?
If it is happening at the Suns, perhaps it is because everyone is still learning. Ablett is three-and-a-half years into the job, as is McKenna as a senior coach.
He may very well finish his career as the greatest onballer the game has ever seen and McKenna a premiership coach in the near future.
In Ablett's case, even being one the greatest, there is always room for improvement.