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Ablett inducted into AFL Hall of Fame -

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Ablett inducted into AFL Hall of Fame

Reporter: Mick Bunworth

KERRY O'BRIEN: On the basis of his 248-game career, Gary Ablett should have been an automatic and
unanimous inclusion in the Australian Rules Football Hall of Fame. But while he was a genius on the
ground, his life off the field was a litany of disasters, culminating in his involvement with a
young female fan who died of a drug overdose in Ablett's hotel room. Consequently, even though he's
been eligible for induction into the Hall of Fame for the past four years, it took until last night
for his inclusion among the pantheon of Aussie Rules greats, and then only after a sometimes bitter
debate. Mick Bunworth reports.

AFL COMMENTATOR: Ablett! Down goes Frawley. Ablett still a chance. He's got two on him now. Still
Gary Ablett! Great football! Line it up, son and kick the goal! He goes for the pass. Even better!

MICK BUNWORTH: It is a decision deemed as inevitable as it is controversial. Gary Ablett's
induction into the AFL's Hall of Fame has been a talking point in Australian Rules circles since he
first became eligible four years ago.

RON EVANS, AFL COMMENTATOR: Over the years we have overlooked Gary for several reasons. Despite the
fact, his playing record is an overwhelming endorsement of his rights to belong to this group. The
reasons we did that are to do with off-the-field events that took place some years after Gary's
playing career ended.

MICK BUNWORTH: There was no doubting his legacy on the field of battle - 248 games, mostly for the
Geelong football club, more than 1,000 goals, and a momentous September afternoon in 1989, when he
kicked nine goals in a losing grand final side.

GARRY HOCKING, FORMER GEELONG PLAYER: He really didn't know a lot about the opposition. It was
amazing. He was just a fellow who had natural ability and natural talent.

MICK BUNWORTH: Garry Hocking played with Ablett during his glory years at Geelong.

GARRY HOCKING: I used to room with him a fair amount of time, and, you know, just - just loved
footy, loved people. Sort of knew him more in the born-again Christian stage and he was up at
7:00am, maybe 6:30am sometimes, and he would be at the front of the bed just reading through the
Bible and that sort of thing.

MICK BUNWORTH: But it was when forced Gary Ablett to again face the limelight he so hated that the
football community struggled with the question of honouring him. The man named God by his adoring
fans with 20-year-old Alicia Horan in a Melbourne hotel room in February 2000 when she died from a
toxic cocktail of drugs after a 5-day bender with her idol. The coroner found that Ablett had not
only participated in the drug binge with Ms Horan, he had neglected to protect the young woman, who
was half his age and infatuated with him. His biographer says the fame that Ablett's skill
attracted could well have contributed to his downfall.

GARRY LINNELL, AUTHOR, 'PLAYING GOD': You've been treated like a superstar right from your
adolescent years. You grow up in this little fishbowl where every whim, every desire is catered
for. And by the time you reach the end of your year, suddenly you've lost that support network and
you're thrust into the real world.

MICK BUNWORTH: Last week, Channel 9 'Footy Show' host and Collingwood Football Club President,
Eddie McGuire, attacked the Hall of Fame Committee for honouring Ablett, despite selection criteria
covering a player's record, ability, integrity, sportsmanship and character.

EDDIE McGUIRE, COLLINGWOOD FOOTBALL CLUB PRESIDENT: You know what they have to do? The AFL now must
come out and, I think, get rid of these selectors because they have breached their duty of care in
filling that criteria. They have totally disregarded it and caused all this hoo-haa. For Gary
Ablett to get within 100 miles of this, he has to show improvement in these areas, if you're going
to put him in there.

MIKE SHEAHAN, AFL HALL OF FAME SELECTION COMMITTEE: We're not sort of canonising people. We're
putting great sportsmen into a hall of fame.

MICK BUNWORTH: Veteran football writer Mike Sheahan has been on the Hall of Fame Selection
Committee since its inception. He asks critics how long they want Ablett's transgressions to
overshadow the sheer joy he brought legions of football fans.

MIKE SHEAHAN: I've got four kids of my own. I just feel so much for the Horan family and just dread
the thought that it could be my family. I mean, we have been as mindful as we possibly can be about
the hurt that they've suffered, about the ongoing publicity and about the fact that a young lady
lost her life. But there is another part to that and there's the rehabilitation and there's the
forgiveness. And I think in the context of football - and it is essentially a football decision - I
think the majority of us took the view that sufficient time had passed for us to sort of say we
would welcome him into the Hall of Fame.

MICK BUNWORTH: But inclusion in the AFL Hall of Fame does not necessarily mark the beginning of
Gary Ablett's rehabilitation. Like the latest act in one of Australian sport's greatest Greek
tragedies, last night's induction ceremony said as much about life off the football field as on it.

RON EVANS: It's sad that Gary is not here, but we understand that's his choice, a choice that he
has made under medical advice. By any definition, Gary Ablett is a football genius. A football
genius who has always been a troubled soul.

MICK BUNWORTH: Just hours before the induction ceremony, Melbourne's 'Herald Sun' took a photograph
of Gary Ablett at a camp where he is seeking treatment for depression. It was left to his manager
to read the champion's words.

MICHAEL BAKER, GARY ABLETT'S MANAGER: It is a great honour and privilege to be inducted into the
AFL Hall of Fame. It is with great regret and with humble apologies that I am unable to attend this
wonderful occasion. However, due to my current battle with depression I am not in a position to be
able to accept this award in person. I did not make this decision lightly, but due to medical
advice, it was deemed best for my health that I do not attend tonight.

MICK BUNWORTH: Those who love football hope the honour may help Gary Ablett return to the fold,
especially since he has two sons playing with Geelong, and already showing hints of his freakish

MIKE SHEAHAN: I hope this sort of encourages him, in his personal problems at the moment, and maybe
long term, to come back and say, he has two boys playing at Geelong, he wants to be part of what
they're doing in their footy career. I mean, Geelong would love to see him back - we all would -
because there's a mystique about him.

MICHAEL BAKER: He was a freak, a freak that comes along not just once in every generation but once
in every five generations, I think.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Mick Bunworth with that report.