The Gold Coast Sun's Gary Ablett in action. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo
HERE'S something that might surprise people about Gary Ablett: in some of the competitive areas that are part of everyday life at a football club, he was no star.
When Gary was at Geelong he was never the strongest runner - he always finished mid-range when it came to time trials. And he was never the strongest in the gym - again only mid-range in the strength testing.
As a fan and constant student of the game (even if I don't play any of the fantasy games that take over workplaces or children's homework time), I love to watch the best teams. I look forward to watching their up-and-coming stars and to keeping a close eye on the premier players. What intrigues me most is how the top players continually find a way to keep up their elite performance standards and look for ways to constantly better themselves.
It's only early in the year but one player has stood out to me above everyone else - my good mate Gaz. His first three games this season have been absolutely incredible: 42, 40 and 45 possessions respectively and six goals.
It's made me think he is actually getting better as a player, when I thought it was just not possible.
He turns 28 this year and he has done just about everything on the football field that's possible. When is it going to stop? And why is he so good?
I put it down to two trademark Gary Ablett values. It is no fluke. Yes, he has the genes that we all dream of, but he was always super-professional in what he did. If it took extra recovery or stretching sessions to get his battered body ready for games from week to week, that's what he'd do.
This year his body looks trimmer and lighter, and this wouldn't be from training only: he would be watching everything he eats so he could better himself.
Gaz's competitiveness is what I believe makes him the player he is. He doesn't like losing anything, be it a wrestle at training or a pre-match game of soccer where you have to keep the ball up for as long as you can.
He just has special talents and incredible competitiveness. Even if it was juggling, he pushed himself to be one of the best, was constantly trying to improve himself.
Gaz and Steve Johnson had a strong relationship. They used to bet each other on everything - snapping the ball through a door in the gym, keeping the ball in the air, doing the impossible kick or how many balls they could last in cricket in the gym.
There was always a little dollar on it, or you buy lunch or coffee.
Gaz also had an incredible ability to switch on and off as he needed. He was always organising extra tickets for family and friends: we get four each and even an hour before the game Gaz was going around the change rooms asking blokes if they had any spare tickets and running them to friends outside.
He would rock up to games without even a bag, just his skins and his wallet and car keys in his hand. Everyone else would have a bag but he'd have everything else - jumper, shorts, socks, mouthguard - already in his locker. People would send Gaz memorabilia and all sorts of things, so there was always stuff everywhere in his locker, spilling out onto the floor.
He was so relaxed, joking around right up until the last minute. Then he'd go into the meeting room and flick a switch.
When he announced he was leaving, Gaz sent a text around to everyone. It was the day before the best and fairest, so we were able to talk to him there. We weren't sure what he'd wear but he turned up in his Geelong suit and tie.
Looking back through the year, you were never sure what he would do. You were hopeful he would stay but you'd hear the talk of what the numbers could be, unbelievable figures that our football club could never pay. We were always hopeful, because he worked so hard right up until the last minute on the last day.
People have asked me: how do you think Gary would be feeling about Geelong winning the premiership in 2011? I answer it the same way every time: he would have been barracking hard for us that day but absolutely it would have killed him not being part of it. I can guarantee you it will drive him to get one at the Gold Coast.