Gary Ablett Snr has spoken emotionally and openly of his regret and torment over the tragic incident involving Alisha Horan some 20 years ago.
Horan died from a combination of heroin, ecstasy and amphetamines after a binge with Ablett Snr, who continues to grieve over what happened on that fateful day.
Ablett, who is widely regarded the greatest footballer of all-time, admits his pain and suffering may have been too much, had it not been for his strong Christian beliefs.
“There’s been times, especially when, with moral failure some 20 years ago, where I was involved in drugs and there was a young lady that overdosed… I can’t tell you how much that shattered me, how much it broke me as a person, it still grieves me to this day,” an emotional Ablett told Reclink Australia – an organisation that offers evidence-based sport and art programs to disadvantaged Australians to create socially inclusive, life-changing opportunities.
“It’s only been my relationship with Jesus Christ that has got me through,” he added. “Without him, I couldn’t have kept going; after that happened I didn’t want to be here for a number of years and I said to God, ‘you should have taken me instead’. It’s been a very painful experience… if only I could go back in time and change thing I would, unfortunately we don’t get that opportunity.
“That’s why choices in life are so important because once we’ve made a choice or a decision, we don’t get the chance to go back in time and change it.
“We need to make sure that we get our decisions right the first time, that’s been a big lesson for me, but I just wish I had have known that a lot earlier.”
Ablett was charged with four drug offences to which he pleaded guilty and was convicted and fined $1500.
The incident at Melbourne’s Park Hyatt Hotel in February 2000 took place 10 years after he was placed on a $10,000 good behaviour bond after pleading guilty to assaulting a man he found sitting in a car with his estranged wife.
Ablett says his checkered past means he can easily connect with people who are in pain and are struggling.
“We all have our issues, and that’s why I certainly can relate to people with mental health issues, whether it’s depression or anxiety, and the temptation to turn to chemicals, whether that’s alcohol or drugs, to try and relieve our emotional pain, to try and get rid of depression… especially long-term mental health issues and things like that,” Ablett explained.
“You can become so desperate, that, sadly, we often begin to compromise and turn to things because none of us likes emotional pain; it can be very draining, especially over a lot of years. The temptation is to try and look to some sort of alternative to try and get rid of your pain to try and cope; it’s called self-medicating… it could be alcohol, drugs, it could be gambling, people get caught up in sexual addictions, all sorts of stuff… as human beings we were created for perfection but there was a fall and we now live with a fallen nature in a fallen world, and unfortunately, that brings with it not just sinfulness but brokenness and pain.
“It’s so easy to want to turn to things, to numb our pain, to escape reality. But, the problem is, when we do that; when the drugs wear off, when the alcohol wears off, we not only wake up with a hangover, but our problems are back worse than ever, often… because what we’ve done while we’re on the drugs or on the drink can obviously add more pain or even shame to our lives.
“It’s so important the company we keep; that we make sure that we’re connecting with and hanging out with people that are going to lead us in the right direction and not the wrong direction.”
MAKING A DIFFERENCE
Delivering groceries to those in need is a far cry from booting bags of 10 or more and taking hangers on the MCG.
But, 24 years after his final game, that’s exactly what Ablett is doing.
And the three-time Coleman Medallist couldn’t be happier.
“For many years now, whether it’s playing football or working jobs for money… you know, you can do all that, but my heart is really with helping and serving people,” said Ablett, who kicked 1031 goals in 248 games (six for Hawthorn, 242 for Geelong).
“I’ve recently had the pleasure, over the last four or five months, to be able to join in voluntarily with a charitable organisation to help out with delivering groceries for needy families.”
Asked if they know who’s knocking on their door, Ablett replied: “No, they don’t, and boy am I glad! Although, it’s funny, word got around that Gary Ablett was delivering groceries… I think a few of them started calling up asking for groceries just so they could get a photo with me. Once they got their photo they rang up and went off the list again.”
Ablett has never been one to seek the spotlight, however, his extensive list of achievements and acclaim have paid to those plans.
Now 59, Ablett is finally able to take comfort from putting a smile on someone’s face.
“It doesn’t really bother me anymore (being recognised), I’ve got to the point where, if people recognise me and they want to say g’day… if I can be a blessing to them and give them a bit of a thrill, well that’s a real pleasure for me. I really find that quite rewarding,” he said.
If you or someone you know is in crisis or needs support right now, help is available. Please call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636.