SINCE Gary Ablett was assisted from Metricon Stadium clutching his dislocated shoulder 20 months ago, we've seen the little master play just six games.
In that span, he's watched his Gold Coast Suns plummet from finals contention in 2014 and then suffer horrendously both on and off field in 2015.
He's also watched his crown as the game's number one player slip right from his head as he drops to No.2 in the AFL Players' Top 50, brought to you by Mars.
But after arguably his best pre-season since moving to the Gold Coast – forget the recent foot niggle – he's ready to remind everyone just how good he is.
His best mate at the club, speedy midfield revelation Aaron Hall, says the injury setbacks are only going to make Ablett better.
"I can see in his pre-season and the way he is at training," Hall said.
"He's running really well, he looks strong in the gym, he reads the game a step before anyone else.
Ablett grimaces after injuring his leg against the Crows in round 17 last season. Picture: AFL Media
"He's still got his speed.
"That's the one thing people say is, as you get older you lose your speed, but Gazza is still lightning quick and his agility is better than most.
"It's only going to make him a better player."
Hall said for Ablett, now 31, returning to the field wouldn't be about proving any doubters wrong, but more about helping his team.
Gary Ablett's honour roll
|274 games (192 Geelong, 82 Gold Coast)||368 goals|
|Brownlow Medal 2009, 2013||Two premierships with Geelong (2007, 2009)|
|214 career Brownlow votes||All Australian 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 (captain), 2012, 2013, 2014|
|AFLPA MVP 2007, 2008, 2009, 2012, 2013||AFLCA Player of the Year 2007, 2008, 2009|
|Geelong best and fairest 2007, 2009||Gold Coast best and fairest 2011, 2012, 2013|
The dual Brownlow medallist left Geelong at the end of 2010 and stated he wanted to captain the fledgling Suns to a flag, and after signing a three-year extension, nothing has changed.
"Knowing Gaz, it wouldn't be about proving to other people that he can get back to his best," Hall said.
"He's the most competitive person I've met in my life and he's a really proud person as well.
"If he didn't feel like he had his best to give to the team and to the AFL, I know he wouldn't have signed a three-year contract.
"He looks really hungry and I'm not sure whether that's because of the injury and really wanting to get back, but I just think he really wants team success.
"He wants finals football and to win a premiership. That's still firmly his goal."
The dual Brownlow Medallist in full flight against the Roos last season. Picture: AFL Media
After recovering from the shoulder reconstruction suffered against Collingwood in 2014, Ablett made his way back permanently in the middle of last year, only to be sidelined with a knee problem.
With all of his time away from the field, the one thing every teammate and coach has mentioned when asked about their skipper's progress, is the improvement in Ablett's leadership.
Hall is no different.
"The guys at the club have asked him to be a bit more vocal, which he has," Hall said.
"He really cares about his teammates. He cares more about their off-field stuff than their on-field performance.
"Out on the ground he's like another coach, just the way he sees the game. He explains things and you learn."
An on-field coach and the No.2 player in the game – not a bad combination.
The AFL Players' Top 50 is compiled with the support of the AFL Players' Association.