Sport's greatest father-son combination? Photo: Michael Willson
It seems every time Gary Ablett steps on to an AFL ground these days he raises the bar just a little higher. And Saturday night's effort at Metricon Stadium ranks as one of the best handful of performances of the champion's 233-game career.
Not just for the 34 disposals, four goals and nine clearances, but for the way that, come crunch time, he again resolved to pick his side up and drag it over the line. Thirteen of those possessions, four stoppage wins and three of those goals came when it mattered most.
So the debates begin again. Is Ablett clearly the best player in the AFL? Is he a better footballer than his father, Gary snr, who is still viewed widely as the greatest the game has seen?
I've got a new one to throw into the mix too, and while there will be plenty to howl it down on the basis of Australian football's isolation on the sporting stage, I'm ready to argue the case. Are the Abletts the greatest father-son combination in the history of world sport?
Are there any rivals you can name who immediately trump that claim? I've heard a handful of alternative nominations. Baseball's Ken Griffey snr and jnr. Motor racing's Mario and Michael Andretti, or Graham and Damon Hill. In soccer, Cesare and Paolo Maldini, or Johan and Jordi Cruyff.
That's about where the suggestions seem to end. Well, for humans, anyway, though many seem happy to throw in Sir Tristram and Zabeel. But can any of those men or nags boast the same sort of influence over their sport the Abletts have had? Will any of those family couplings have both the elder and younger half spoken about as among the best handful of exponents of a sport in its history?
Ablett snr's statistical legacy is imposing enough. A spot in the AFL's Team of the Century. Three Coleman Medals. Eight All-Australian selections. A total of 1030 career goals, the fifth highest in history, despite having spent only four seasons as a full-time spearhead. A record nine goals in a grand final. Three bags of 14, and 45 hauls of seven or more.
The clincher for me of Ablett snr's standing as the greatest of all time was his capacity to perform feats of which arguably no other player has been physically capable, the snaps over the shoulder from beyond 50 metres on either foot.
Ablett snr might have been the last player who it can be said dragged thousands through the turnstiles only to see him play.
Yet Gary jnr, while not as explosive, and certainly not as physically intimidating, has his dad covered for consistency. Saturday night was incredibly the 74th time he had recorded 30-plus possessions in his past 131 games.
At 28, with potentially another five seasons left in him, the younger Ablett already has a Brownlow Medal, four best and fairests, six All-Australian gongs and four recognitions as best player in the competition from his peers.
What even those numbers don't state adequately, though, is the extent to which the Gold Coast skipper not only marshals those around him, but lifts them with him, like Ablett did in Saturday night's final quarter. It's pretty hard to find an extra gear when you're routinely in overdrive, but he did it yet again against St Kilda, and got his side the win.
Who else in the modern era has been capable of doing it? A decade ago it was James Hird, Nathan Buckley, Michael Voss, perhaps recently Jonathan Brown and Chris Judd. Now Ablett stands alone.
As a father-son combination, they have got other AFL greats such as Serg and Stephen Silvagni, Ken and Dustin Fletcher, even Tim and Jobe Watson covered. Call me parochial, but I reckon the Abletts might have it over the rest of the globe as well.