Gary Ablett Jr played poorly in Gold Coast’s 100-point loss to Greater Western Sydney in round 2 – and the football world was taken aback.
To see him not in his side’s best players came as a shock, leading to queries about his commitment, age and injuries.
But ever since, Ablett has, once again, been among the stars of the competition, averaging 34 disposals per game with his customary brilliance.
Ablett lines up for his 300th game on Saturday, when the Suns host North Melbourne, becoming just the 81st VFL/AFL player to achieve the feat.
And he remains firmly in the conversation about the greatest players of all time – if not for his sheer talent, then for his consistency.
“There can’t be too many 300-game players who’ve hardly ever played a bad game,” two-time premiership coach Mark Thompson told The New Daily.
Thompson, who coached Ablett for all nine of his seasons at Geelong, said “you knew what you were going to get from him every week – 30 possessions, a couple of goals, setting up another couple – he was just Gary.
“I’ve never seen a bloke just do it as easy. He’s made football look so easy.”
While Ablett’s talent is remarkable, Thompson says we shouldn’t take for granted the determination he’s shown to stay at the top of his profession.
“You don’t play at the level he has for as long as he has if you’re not dedicated and you don’t take pride in what you do,” he said.
“His preparation and ability to recover is second to none.
“He’s the best at recovering I’ve ever seen, by a long way. He cares about his body and his game and has high standards.”
After two flags and a Brownlow Medal, Ablett made a high-profile move to the Gold Coast Suns for their inaugural AFL season in 2011.
It was a big-money switch and Ablett had to watch on as his former teammates at Geelong won another premiership in that season.
“When you saw the way he played with basically a team of kids around him, it was 11 out of 10. It was just amazing,” former Suns coach McKenna told The New Daily.
He cited one game against North Melbourne, featuring talented players like Daniel Wells and Brent Harvey, played in slippery conditions on the Gold Coast.
“There was only one person out there making it look like it was a dry day, and that was Gary,” he added.
“He’d read the ball off hands, he’d pick it up off the ground with one hand, and he’d take marks out in front of his face.
“The rest of them looked human and he just made the difficult look very easy.”
Thompson says Ablett, who added a 2013 Brownlow Medal to his list of honours at the Suns, has come a long way from the shy teenager who turned up at Geelong in the shadow of his famous father, another Geelong legend.
“Deep down he’s ultra-confident because he knows what he can do,” Thompson added.
“He knows exactly how good he is. Yet he can still lift in a big moment or big occasion.”
It would be fitting if we got to see yet another Ablett masterclass against the Kangaroos on Saturday. Nobody would be at all surprised.