Coming into the 2017 season, it seemed as if the Suns had resurged after a miserable year previously, which saw them accumulate a measly six wins. Their list had re-shaped, the players who didn't want to be there were gone and, most importantly, they were finally healthy. But only two rounds into the new season and we already have the Suns placed in crisis mode. A shock loss to Brisbane and a 100-point thumping by GWS have put the players, and more so the coach, Rodney Eade, on thin ice. One, in particular, has had a major sway in the way things have operated up north since the Suns incarnation in 2011. As good as the Little Master may be, his attitude and inability to actually lead younger players, have played a major hand in why the Suns struggle so much to this day.
Upon joining the Suns in 2011 on a five-year deal being reportedly worth anything from $9 million upward, Ablett has been an on-field superstar winning a Brownlow Medal and has become a three-time Gold Coast best and fairest recipient. He's captivated audiences with his ball skills and seriously made us question the laws of physics when kicking for goal. The Suns were relevant because Ablett was at the height of his powers, putting bums on seats and funnelling revenue into the club. He could do no wrong.
But, Ablett's lack of mentorship and off-field guidance is only something that is really encasing the media now. Now that his skills and magic around the goal are quickly diminishing, we can see the stain he's left on the Gold Coast Suns as a footy club. The fact that the players are arguing mid-match, are not focused on the game plan but instead worried about getting their own limelight is crafted from the very image of Gary Ablett. Ablett his entire career has been the best and most gifted player on any squad he's played for. Forget Jimmy Bartel's Brownlow win in 2007, Ablett was the better player that year, which was demonstrated in his winning of the Geelong best and fairest that year. It's always been about him. How do we stop Ablett? Where is he most dangerous? Are all questions that opposition coaches and staff have asked themselves. As a Suns player, it wouldn't be wrong to think that the club is all about Ablett. From the media to lucrative money to the game plan, when does any other Sun get a mention. This creates an ego problem in the locker room and causes jealousy to arise. Once this happens, the objective of winning becomes skewed, and personal gain becomes the number one priority. In other words, Ablett is enemy number one, and fellow teammates are more determined to beat him than the opposition. It's a big problem and one that has never been addressed by the club or Ablett for that matter.
On the locker room topic, it is no secret the Suns' is well divided amongst teammates. An article in The Australian in 2015 referred to the Gold Coast Suns as a squad with half on the grog and the other half deeply in vowed in their bible books. Ablett, who is now very open about his religion, was a sort of leader of the Gold Coast ‘bible boys' and would regularly pray pregame with players such as Aaron Hall and Zac Smith before his trade to Geelong. Although seemingly harmless, some of the players were not on board and didn't agree with this approach. They felt secluded and probably threatened by such a charismatic and open approach to religion.
With vastly different social groups being formed, what's occurred in the locker room has transcended onto the field with players running around with not nearly as much direction or focus as that of the opposition. Their list is full of talent, but talent will only get you so far.
The best thing that can now happen to the Gold Coast Suns is that at the end of the 2017 season, they work out a trade that will send Gary Ablett back home to Geelong. They have good young players in Touk Miller, Peter Wright, Jack Bowes, and Ben Ainsworth that need leaders such as Steven May and Tom Lynch and veterans like Jarrod Harbrow and Michael Barlow to lead them in the right direction. As good as Ablett may be, his distractions are proving damning to the club and his off-season fiasco of whether he wants to play there are not, really does leave a bad taste.
The re-building process will now be crucial for the Suns, not only in regard to their on-field success but their survival. Ablett cannot be a part of this and relocating him should be the Suns' number one priority in the off-season, by all means necessary. The Ablett effect has definitely played a hand in the club's major setback when it should be competing with the likes of GWS for this season's premiership.
His exit will usher in a new dawn at the Suns, hopefully, a much more successful one.