If you were to take a trip through the Gippsland region of Traralgon during the most recent off-season, you were a chance to run into Geelong youngster Jordan Cunico going through his paces.
The young Cat had a troubled injury history during the early stages of his AFL career, registering one game in his first three seasons in the system after suffering knee and ankle issues.
Entering his fourth year at Geelong, Cunico decided things needed to change so he embarked on a mini pre-season when the majority of the football population were overseas for a well-earned rest.
Returning to his hometown during the summer months, the 22-year-old would regularly drag a mate to the Traralgon athletics track for some running and frequented his father’s gym to prepare himself for his biggest year yet.
“In previous years, I probably came back too unconditioned so it would take me a bit longer to get into the swing of things,” Cunico told AFLPlayers.com.au.
“But last year I came back fitter than when I left after following a running and weights program. I didn’t do much in the off-season this year in terms of going on any holidays or anything too fancy so I did as much training as I could by myself which has helped me since I came back.”
That’s not to say Cunico didn’t refresh over the summer period. The winger/half-forward just didn’t plan a massive overseas holiday.
Instead, Cunico enjoys the simpler things in life. Hailing from a country town and moving three hours to the other side of the city to another one has made the transition easier for him.
He’s just bought a house in Geelong and there’s still a lot of things to unpack, while his dog, a German Shorthaired Pointer named Ava, takes up a bit of his time given her energy levels.
But things haven’t always been easy for Cunico. His first two years were ravaged by knee injuries before an ankle problem derailed the second half of his 2017 season after making his long-awaited AFL debut in Round 10.
For Cunico, his fourth year in the system means he’s grown a little wiser and understanding what makes his body tick stemming from the time he tore two tendons at the back of his knee in his second year.
“I do a lot of tendon loading to get my body right for every session and every game. Things like leg press holds and Spanish squat holds, which are designed to get the blood flowing into your tendons.
“I do that before training sessions and games and I come in on some days off sometimes and do that as well so they’re feeling fresh and ready to go.
“I’ve had a few tendon issues in my knees and achillies so I do some exercises in the gym to prepare me for the weekend. I do the little things as much as I can.”
Year two tested Cunico’s patience and commitment but the support from teammates and Geelong staff means his mind never doubted his ability to come back and make an impact.
It’s paying dividends for the former Traralgon Football Club junior as he’s played 10 games straight since coming into the side in Round 4.
He’s far from the player and person he was 12 months ago, when he broke through for his first AFL match. While it’s only been a year, Cunico feels as though it’s been a lot longer given how rapidly his experience on the big stage has increased in that time.
He’s played in eight wins from his 11 AFL games, averaging 19 disposals and nearly five inside 50s — with only Patrick Dangerfield averaging more inside 50s at the Cats in 2018 — and he can hit the scoreboard when required.
Cunico’s a long way from the kid who grew up kicking the footy with his dad in the backyard in Traralgon, or ‘The Gon’ as he terms it.
He grew up playing just about every sport possible. From footy, cricket, basketball and tennis to athletics and golf, there wasn’t much for him to do other than be outside with his mates.
And football is truly a family sport for Cunico with his sister Kim, three years older, playing with Carlton’s VFLW side this year.
A month ago, Kim played at Kardinia Park against the Cats VFLW side, as a curtain raiser to Cunico’s own clash against the Blues. It was a first for the family, with their parents making the trek across to watch and spending a bit of time with their children afterwards.
Geelong, the town, suits Cunico perfectly and he enjoys the relaxed feel. With his girlfriend, Taylah, who he met through their school days at Lavalla Catholic College, moving down two years ago, Cunico has the balance right.
Although between Ava, Taylah and the house his life may not be as laid-back as it seems.
“My dog takes up most of it. Walking in the park and taking her to the beach. I just bought a house in Geelong, which keeps me pretty busy, there’s stuff all around the place at the moment.
“My girlfriend always keeps me on my toes as well.”