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THE SEASON AHEAD

I know my best footy is behind me. I can still do a few things OK, but I’ll be turning 35 in a couple of months, so my role within the team isn’t what it used to be.

 

The boys don’t mind reminding me of this. The banter flies thick and fast around the club. The Raynors and the Witherdens of the world refer to me as ?Fossil’ and any other old-timers gag they can think of. They’re cheeky buggers, but so was I at that age so I can’t be too hard on them.

 

Witherden needs to be careful, though. He owes me about ten lunches and I haven’t called in the debt yet. We have little skills challenges after training, things like goals from the pocket, with a little side wager on the result. You’d reckon he’d be beating an old fella like me – he was three when I made my AFL debut! – but he struggles. I let him know this from time-to-time.

 

 

Banter aside, my primary job at the club as I’ve seen it has been to pass onto Dayne Zorko and the guys what I’ve learned through the years – and I’ve been fortunate enough to play with and against a lot of very good players, and work with some absolute professionals off the field.

 

That role will probably change slightly this year. The guys have picked on many of the points we were raising last season about our on-field standards. It happened quickly, sometimes right then and there during games. They weren’t waiting for the review on Monday.

 

It can be a balancing act, knowing when to step back and when to get involved.

 

What really struck me was how pointy we were as a group at Hawthorn. People spend a lot of time worrying about not hurting others’ feelings.

 

Holding your tongue in meetings can be challenging at times. The coach will sometimes ask a question and you’re looking around, waiting for one of the younger guys to respond. I’ve been doing this since 2002 – so you’d hope I’d know most of the answers by now! – but it can’t always be the senior blokes doing the talking. That would allow the younger ones to sit back and get a free ride, which wouldn’t be helping their development.

 

That said, there are also times when you need to jump on the front foot. If there’s a bit of confusion around certain issues, you’ve got to clear it up straightaway so people aren’t running off in all directions. It’s all about timing and knowing the right moments to speak up.

 

And it’s not all one-way either. Sometimes, I’ll throw things up to the leadership group and leave it to them to decide whether they act upon them on not. Some things they like. Some things don’t suit them at that stage. With leadership groups, the trick is often to get them thinking and tweaking smaller things around the team – maintaining a happy place, ensuring the standards are upheld by everyone, those kinds of things.

 

The expectation last season was always on development, but we’re starting to get quite a lot more pointy about what we’re doing this year. The Lions were beaten by ten goals-plus a number of times in 2016 and 2017. That happened just the once last year. I think we earned back some respect from the competition.

 

The win against the West Coast on the weekend was a good start. Now we have to build on it.

 

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