IT’S ALL part of his ‘time to grow up’ mantra, but Gold Coast coach Rodney Eade says ideally the Suns will learn not to need captain Gary Ablett.
The two-time Brownlow medallist's season-ending shoulder injury was a key reason behind the Suns' slumping finish to their 2014 campaign.
With Ablett watching from the sidelines, the Suns won just one of their last seven fixtures to eventually finish 12th, missing out on an inaugural finals berth that had looked a near-certainty earlier in the year.
The 30-year-old superstar is on track to be fit and firing again for the Suns' round one fixture against Melbourne at the MCG on April 4.
But Eade says last year's slump shows how much the club needs to become less dependent on Ablett.
"They've depended on him, there's no doubt about that and the numbers indicate that strongly," Eade told AAP, adding that young guns such as Dion Prestia, David Swallow and Jaeger O'Meara had struggled to stand up when Ablett went down due to their own physical state.
"Your midfield's your main area, there were only four players that really basically played in there.
"They were reasonably fatigued by the end of the year. Gary going down, there's no support, where we've got to build a greater breadth and depth of midfielders so that it can take the pressure off Gary.
"Make it so the focus just isn't on Gary, so we can win without him and we don't need him. He's just the cream on the top."
The Suns' skipper has continued his return to full contact training and is eyeing off a possible playing return on March 20 in the club's pre-season clash with the Brisbane Lions.
Eade says he's got no doubts Ablett will be 100 per cent fit in time to take on the Demons by round one.
"I couldn't be more pleased with the way he's trained and everybody's noted who knows him here that it's the best pre-season he's had," Eade said.
"He's getting more confidence with his shoulder. He's got the all-clear and he's starting some resistance and competitive work now. He'll be right."