NINE MILLION dollars over five years was lure simply impossible to ignore for GARY ABLETT junior when he abdicated north. But would he make the same decision today? KEN PIESSE reports:
GIVEN HIS time again Gary Ablett junior would never have left Geelong, according to Neil Balme, Geelong’s ex-football supremo.
Balme says Ablett’s initial $9 million five-year contract — the biggest in history — made it impossible for him to remain a one-club player.
“And to think that all or most was funded by the AFL,” said Balme, addressing the 2018 footy season launch of the Australian Cricket Society at Kooyong.
Balme says any 26-year-old would have had their head turned by the enormous size of the offer.
Geelong had no chance of competing or matching the riches dangled by Gold Coast. Ablett must now be financially secure for life but his move north did come at a cost in football terms, depriving him of a place in a third premiership side with the Cats in 2011.
With Ablett, now 33, back at Kardinia Park and on the verge of playing 200 Geelong games by mid-season, injuries-permitting, Balme says his re-recruitment is magnificent for his old club, especially in its early-season membership drive.
Asked if Ablett would have made the same decision and left Geelong, as he did in 2011, Balme said: “Probably not.”
Discussing his 50 years in football, starting as a skinny 16-year-old at Subiaco where he opposed football icon Graham “Polly” Farmer in one of his first senior games, Balme said the opportunity to play in and coach premiership teams in Melbourne and Adelaide and continue a life in football has made him one of the truly fortunate men in the game.
Back at Richmond in key engineroom roles, after a controversial end to his tenure in a similar role at Collingwood, he says to be part of another Richmond flag last year was “simply magnificent, a miracle” (given where the club had been).
He said he had first joined the Tigers as a teenager after Alan Schwab offered him and his brother the opportunity to go on the club’s end of season trip to the Gold Coast. “That was good enough for me and I signed straight away,” said Balme.
Quizzed about his sudden exit from Collingwood after the appointment of Graeme Allan in a subsidiary role, Balme smiled and said: “I could have stayed but I couldn’t have stayed.”
KEN PIESSE has covered cricket and football for more than 30 years in Melbourne. Despite that setback, Ken has written, published and edited 86 books on cricket and AFL football to become Australian sport’s most prolific author.
His latest cricket book is David Warner, The Bull, Daring to be Different with Wilkinson Publishing, out now