Seven years ago, my heart broke in two when I found out that Gary Ablett Junior was leaving Geelong to join the newly formed Gold Coast Suns.
‘My family and I had taken an end-of-season trip to the USA, Disneyland, because football runs the household and the schedules by which we survive.
Dad and I stood hand in hand, lined for hours for the Haunted House, making memories outside of our little football bubble, which was rare for a couple of footy heads like us.
It was hot. 45 degrees hot (the hottest day in Anaheim history) and the heat drained us. I wished for the rain, to take me back to Melbourne’s winters at the footy. My place.
My Uncle Paul never called, but this day he did and we knew something was off.
“Gary Ablett has left Geelong, he’s going to the Gold Coast.”
The sour words echoed through my 10-year-old mind, head pounding because of the heat and now this heartbreak.
I refused to believe it, until it was officially done and Ablett packed up and jetted off to his new destination.
I held a small glimmer of hope that he would stay, which made the reality sting a lot harder.
I would learn that pessimism would do me justice in the years to come.
Tears began to fall as I buried my head into Dad’s chest, with strangers passing with sweet remarks of reassurance.
“It’s only a ride, sweetheart, it’s nothing to be scared about.”
But it wasn’t a ride. It was much worse than that. It was everything. Football was everything.
My ten-year-old life came crashing down before my very eyes. It was the end of the world, despite what everyone had previously promised me.
So, Gary Ablett left and I proceeded to shed a few hundred tears and reflect on the way back to the hotel.
I told myself that there was to be no more hope in football, and to be at peace with the decision.
It made me sleep better knowing this, but it rained the next day. A sign.’
This piece was something I wrote many years ago, attempting to describe what it’s like to lose a part of yourself that you think you’ll never get back.
But today, after seven years of waiting (and secretly hoping), the prodigal son has returned.
Under the hot sun of the MCG, celebrating Captain Courageous Joel Selwood’s 250th game, Ablett led out a newer, younger Cats side to take on Melbourne.
The Cats and Demons were neck and neck in the first, playing slingshot footy for continuous goals.
Suddenly, a darting number 4 bursts through traffic and kicks such an ‘Ablett like’ goal. The crowd are in tears, hugging whoever is closest.
It was typical Ablett and reminded the Cats fans why we fell in love with him all those years ago (although we never really fell out of love).
He’s one of only two opposition players to get an ovation at Kardinia Park. The other, of course being Patrick Dangerfield, in round 23, 2015 in his last game for Adelaide.
By half time, Daniel Menzel had 2, Lachie Fogarty, Brandon Parfitt, Tim Kelly, Zac Smith, Cam Guthrie, Jordan Murdoch, James Parsons and Gary Ablett all had one to their name and the Cats had kicked 12 goals to the Dees eight.
The Cats allow Melbourne to kick four goals to their one in the third.
Melbourne enter the final term trailing by only seven points.
I shuffled uneasily in my seat, knowing the Dees would be putting up a fight until the end.
The final quarter saw wasted opportunities, for Menzel, who missed two crucial set shots, but also for Max Gawn, who missed a shot in the dying seconds from 20 metres out.
The pressure seemed to get to every player’s head.
Jayden Hunt attempted a last hurrah, but his torpedo fell well short.
I look to my Aunty Maz, Dad and Uncle James in relief. The Cats take the four points.
“There’s still 21 more weeks of this to go!” Uncle James notes.
Ablett, along with Joel Selwood, dominated through the middle and lead the Cats to an unbelievably gutsy victory.
Gazza racked up 39 disposals and kicked a beautiful goal, just like old times.
And now, after nearly eight years of an empty pipe dream, I can happily say that there is such a thing as hope in football.