THE SEASON AHEAD
I know my best footy is behind me. I can still do a few things OK, but Iâ€™ll be turning 35 in a couple of months, so my role within the team isnâ€™t what it used to be.
The boys donâ€™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 â€?Fossilâ€™ and any other old-timers gag they can think of. Theyâ€™re cheeky buggers, but so was I at that age so I canâ€™t be too hard on them.
Witherden needs to be careful, though. He owes me about ten lunches and I havenâ€™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. Youâ€™d reckon heâ€™d be beating an old fella like me â€“ he was three when I made my AFL debut! â€“ but he struggles. I let him know this from time-to-time.
Banter aside, my primary job at the club as Iâ€™ve seen it has been to pass onto Dayne Zorko and the guys what Iâ€™ve learned through the years â€“ and Iâ€™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 werenâ€™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 othersâ€™ feelings.
Holding your tongue in meetings can be challenging at times. The coach will sometimes ask a question and youâ€™re looking around, waiting for one of the younger guys to respond. Iâ€™ve been doing this since 2002 â€“ so youâ€™d hope Iâ€™d know most of the answers by now! â€“ but it canâ€™t always be the senior blokes doing the talking. That would allow the younger ones to sit back and get a free ride, which wouldnâ€™t be helping their development.
That said, there are also times when you need to jump on the front foot. If thereâ€™s a bit of confusion around certain issues, youâ€™ve got to clear it up straightaway so people arenâ€™t running off in all directions. Itâ€™s all about timing and knowing the right moments to speak up.
And itâ€™s not all one-way either. Sometimes, Iâ€™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 donâ€™t suit them at that stage. With leadership groups, the trick is often to get them thinking and tweaking smaller things around the team â€“ maintaining a happy place, ensuring the standards are upheld by everyone, those kinds of things.
The expectation last season was always on development, but weâ€™re starting to get quite a lot more pointy about what weâ€™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.