While most players were gallivanting around the world in last year’s off-season, Collingwood’s Josh Thomas was undertaking an accounting internship as part of his Monash University Bachelor of Business degree.
The 27-year-old spent two weeks of his break completing the internship to help develop his off-field skills and prepare himself for life after football, whenever that time may come.
After facing a two-year ban from ASADA in 2015, the forward knows all too well the importance of having a passion outside of football.
With the average AFL career spanning between three and six seasons, Thomas said his time away from the game was a wake-up call to how fleeting a football career can be.
“Before my ban I didn’t really understand the importance of having an outlet away from football,” he told AFLPlayers.com.au ahead of Collingwood’s preliminary final against the GWS Giants on Saturday.
“I’m sure getting a little bit older has helped that too but the ban really clicked me into gear.”
Despite the challenges full-time football and part-time university can present, Thomas said studying fed into his leisure time away from the club and has lent itself to an improved output on-field.
Since returning to the senior team in 2017, Thomas has only missed two games, both of which came in 2019, and has kicked 44 goals in that time span.
Collingwood’s dream run to the 2018 Grand Final coincided with Thomas’ best season where he kicked 38 goals and played all 26 games.
The crafty forward has been unable to replicate that stunning run of form this season, periodically struggling to find his groove in Collingwood’s ever-changing forward-line.
A hip injury following the Magpies’ Round 16 loss to Hawthorn provided the opportunity for Collingwood coach Nathan Buckley and forward coach Brenton Sanderson to sit down with Thomas and have an honest conversation about where he was at before sending him back to the VFL to regain his confidence.
As disappointing as those moments were following his conversation with Buckley, Thomas said he knew the coaches were coming from the most supportive angle possible.
“My form was middling so it turned out be the best thing… they wanted me to get my best footy back rather than sending me back to the VFL and forgetting about my role.”
In hindsight, Thomas said it gave him a chance to refresh – both mentally and physically – for the latter part of the season and leading into finals.
Returning to the VFL and playing through injury presented a steep learning curve for Thomas, where he discovered the challenges associated with itching to return to the senior side but not physically being ready.
“I thought I had to go back to the VFL and try and get straight back in,” he said.
“As it turned out, it was the wrong decision and it ended badly with me missing Round 18 through injury anyway.”
At the time, Thomas said he didn’t understand the situation in its entirety but Buckley’s open-door policy allowed for any confusion to be dispelled just as quickly.
Thomas is the first to admit that missing his first senior game in 51 matches left him feeling like he’d failed to play his role.
“I wanted to keep playing and that got into my thinking,” he said.
“Hindsight is a wonderful thing and in reality it wasn’t a big deal to miss a game but rather a lesson learnt about how to manage myself – mentally and physically.”
With the challenges of injury and form behind him, Thomas is looking ahead to his next big task – overcoming the Giants’ impenetrable defence consisting of Phil Davis, Nick Haynes and Zac Williams.
With Collingwood now an experienced finals side, Thomas said the energy around the club is significantly different to this time last year.
“Everyone’s excited but we’ve been able to switch off over the weekend off and look forward to what lies ahead this weekend,” he said.