Gary Ablett’s preparations for his 2015 AFL return, and post-retirement, started successfully this weekend – in the Gold Coast coaching box.
The Suns shrugged the monkey from their back with a 53-point victory over St Kilda to post their first victory in eight matches over four seasons without Ablett.
Their captain wasn’t far away, debuting as midfield mentor Matthew Primus’s assistant in the Coast’s coaches box.
Recovering from shoulder surgery, Ablett has taken up the role to better understand how Guy McKenna views the game and also as experience for a potential coaching career down the track.
McKenna said Ablett gave valuable insights but was more than happy to take a back seat as his team got their finals tilt back on the rails.
“He had a few bits and pieces to say,” McKenna said.
“Like most young assistant coaches it takes a while for them to come out of their skin.
“He clearly understands the game and had a couple of insightful recommendations – like getting himself on the game.
“He will continue to do that. He offers a great set of eyes to our midfield brigade.”
It was the first time the Suns had been back playing at their Carrara home ground since Ablett dislocated his shoulder midway through their stirring win over Collingwood four weeks ago.
McKenna had issued a back-to-basics approach after limp losses to the Bulldogs and Brisbane and was most proud of their hunger for the contested footy.
“Regardless of whether Gary plays or doesn’t play … if you get an effort over the footy like that you win most of those games of football,” he said.
Vice-captain Andrew Swallow was subbed out in the fourth quarter after playing on with an Achilles problem but McKenna fully expects him to play Carlton at Etihad Stadium on Saturday.
St Kilda coach Alan Richardson was left to rue his side’s dreadful skills out of defence, especially after their stunning last-start upset of Fremantle.
“Fremantle was one of those performances where it has the potential to raise the bar,” he said.
“I don’t question our effort. It wasn’t where it was against Fremantle, but it wasn’t effort it was our inability to execute.
“We just gave the ball back to them way too often.”