We board multiple buses and make the reasonably short trip to a typical suburban ground for our main training session. My Sydney geography is poor and where we are, I have no idea, but I did see a sign that said Marrickville not far from where our bus pulled to a halt. The oval was flanked by an old two-tiered grandstand and grassy embankments; I was transported back to my home town of Geraldton and a smile stretched across my face. Our main session was light, considering our break between games, but we got what we needed done and headed back to the hotel for lunch. We travelled to a university to “shift some tin”, footy jargon for go to the gym, in the afternoon in our allocated groups. Wiping equipment down before and after use is now common practice and really not that hard. Massage and dinner and our bodies are starting to feel ready for battle against the Brisbane Lions.
Today is the day of our traditional captain’s run. The session is all about preparing for the battle ahead with meetings focused on the detail to make that happen. Physically, it’s never much more than a light jog and a kick, but mentally it forms an important opportunity to build some resolve for the contest to come. We are allocated 30 minutes at the SCG to do what is necessary before a quiet afternoon of massage, mobility and meals. We do a COVID-19 test to make sure we are all clear before the game tomorrow, test number 16 for me. They have become the rule rather than the exception and are not really that bad at all.
Today is game day; 266 games in and I still get nervous before a game of footy. It would feel unnatural not to. I wake early and eat a breakfast of porridge, fruit, toast, eggs, mushrooms and avocado. The day is yours to do as required to get yourself ready. Our hotel room has a common room with a chess board, table tennis table, PlayStation and lots of mobility gadgets to help limber up. Players filter in and out of the room as the day draws on, focus becoming narrower and more visible as game time nears. Being surrounded by teammates and staff that you respect and trust helps settle the butterflies.
A total of 1088 players have had the chance to wear our famous jumper in 162 years. We aim to always wear it with pride, passion and honour, the privilege should never be forgotten nor taken for granted. Sure, the circumstances in which we wear the hoops are different at the moment but that honour remains the same.
The game is as expected, an arm wrestle punctuated by moments of brilliance from both teams. A dominant third quarter set up the win for us, the result of an organised team across all lines, which is a pleasure to be a part of. A couple of early injuries meant game times were high and so we will all sleep well tonight.
The day after the game is very much about recovery again. Food, sleep and “active recovery” are prioritised, a chance for aches and pains from the battle to subside a little. Our non-selected AFL players played a practice game against Collingwood in what is a fantastic opportunity for everyone to continue to develop their game. We have taken our entire squad into hub life, the chance to play football in a match-like situation is something I feel is so important for a player’s wellbeing. As competitive athletes we crave the feeling of testing ourselves against an opposition, the chance to win or lose a key part of our psyche. Those aches and pains linger. Focus is broad, there is a spaciousness in the mind as you allow your thoughts to drift. A big dinner and good night’s sleep are in order. On Saturday we are heading for Western Australia. Protocols will again be very strict. So much planning has gone on behind the scenes between the AFL and state governments to get us to this point. We all understand the health implications of failing to adhere to required procedures. Like society at large, prosperity relies on everyone doing the right thing. We must remember that every occasion presents an opportunity, if we choose to view it that way. “We are the masters of our fates, the captains of our souls.”