Look, any team would love to have a player the calibre of Ablett on board, but he really needed more around him. They needed a core of experienced low-key disciplined hardarses to set example and establish culture - brilliance secondary behind commitment. Instead they had a bunch of mercenaries and flakes. Brennan, Hunt and Brown FFS. In hindsight, Ward is probably the single most important guy in GWS history because he set the tone and culture so emphatically.
Everyone at GC knew that Ablett is a bit of an unusual guy for a footy player with his religious beliefs etc, and they knew he’d be spending a lot if time in melb. Which is fine, Ablett can believe what he likes, and it takes all sorts to make a footy club, but with him not being around a lot and not having much in common with lots of his teammates when he was, it was a recipe for leadership vacuum. And that seems to have been a vacuum that Karmichael ‘pingaz’ Hunt seems to have stepped into. Aside from the obvious problem there, how are 18yos meant to learn about professional footy from someone who’s never played it?
But simply saying that GWS did everything right and GC stuffed everything up is unfair. GWS had significantly more concessions than GC (minidraft picks, bigger list size, higher salary cap…) and they got their pick of the underage crop in a much stronger draft year. And GC had their share of bad luck with frequent injuries to blokes like Swallow and Prestia in their early years. But in the end, it looks a lot to me like Ward vs Ablett was emblematic of the difference in approach between the two teams. GWS built from the bottom up, GC tried to build from the top down.