On the frustrations of working with Gary Ablett

Thursday, 2 June, 2005

Ross Stapleton reflected on Gary Ablett, who was inducted into the AFL Hall of Fame in 2005

What’s the worst job you’ve ever had? The worst job I ever had — well the most frustrating one — was working as Gary Ablett’s ghost writer for the Sunday Age. He was a fantastic player, with fantastic speed and agility on the field, but I had the terrible job of coaxing sufficient interesting thoughts from his mouth to produce a readable column. I was forced to give up before a word was published because he refused to say anything remotely interesting.

It’s a pity. Ablett was the most enigmatic and most controversial figure to ever play AFL and just possibly the game’s best. Certainly in his prime was he was the greatest box office draw-card of his era, the Michael Jordan of AFL. But even before he was forced to give the game away in 1997, he was sliding off the rails in his personal life. His subsequent drug problems that ended in the death of a 20-year-old woman in 2000 are now well enough known.

On field, though, there was virtually nothing Ablett couldn’t do on better than anybody else — except obey team rules. The stories of him not even knowing the names of a lot of the players given the job of playing on him are true. He lived in a world of his own, and one of the best stories Ricky Nixon tells of his most famous and elusive client was when he got a phone call from Ablett the wrong side of midnight to wake him with an urgent request: “I’ve been watching that game gridiron or whatever you call it and I reckon I could go all right in that, do you reckon you could fix me up with a team?”

Former Senator John Button, a mad Geelong fan, once told me about his hero worship of Ablett and what he meant to all football fans. The AFL does owe Gary Ablett and next Monday night, while he won’t be attending to personally accept his belated induction into the AFL Hall of Fame, he will hopefully allow himself a few private moments of pride.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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