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Life in footy all-encompassing

I look to my right and find myself standing next to Josh Kennedy for the opening bounce of Saturday’s big clash at the SCG.

The ball goes up, I make a move and it lands perfectly in my hands while I’m building speed.

I take a bounce and kick it long from just outside 50 where the ball carries through for the first goal of the game.

It’s then where I realise where I am.

My university lecturer is asking me questions and I’m in a class full of second-year students learning exercise physiology.

Frustratingly, my opening bounce goal was not real but just a day dream.

But that type of dream is not uncommon. It happens a lot when your mind is occupied with football.

You are never completely at ease and are constantly switching from what happened in your last game to how you can improve the next week and what the opposition will look like and throw at you.

When I read Port Adelaide great Warren Tredrea’s column in The Advertiser last week after his well-deserved Australian Football Hall of Fame induction, I found it intriguing how he spoke about how hard he found it to enjoy his football when he played.

‘As much as we all love playing the game, your weekly mood is usually determined by how you and your team performed the previous week.’

He revealed how it wasn’t until after his playing career that he allowed himself to “stop and smell the roses’’.

When I thought about the situation that I and every other AFL player is in, Tredders’ comments made complete sense.

As much as we all love playing the game, your weekly mood is usually determined by how you and your team performed the previous week.

At AFL level, the demands are so high and the outcomes so important that football is no longer played completely for fun — it is your job.

It is a completely engulfing career, where your day to day activities, while not always totally football related, involve great thought, dedication, hard work, discipline and routine.

Last Saturday was a prime example.

Port played in front of 42,000 people at an inspiring Adelaide Oval but 30 minutes after the win against St Kilda the players were all sitting in a team meeting reviewing the game and moving on to today’s high-profile clash against the Swans.

The club song had been sung, we’d weighed in to make sure no-one had dehydrated — some boys lose 2-to-3kg a game — we drank our protein shakes, performed our media commitments (mine was with ABC Radio) and completed our warm-downs in the middle of Adelaide Oval.

Then we had our debrief with coach Ken Hinkley and his assistants, where each player had his KPI’s measured and some video clips were shown of some of the things we were working on and how we carried them out during the game.

Given we’d had a good win, most of the feedback was positive.

Players were icing down during the debrief and then we all had to spend 10 minutes in an ice bath to help our bodies recover from a taxing game.

It was then meet and greet time — first with our supporters where we chatted, signed autographs and made ourselves available for photographs, and then we caught up with family and friends.

The following day our preparation started all over again, with recovery, solid training sessions and meetings.

‘Even in off seasons most players have trouble winding down.’

Sunday was individual recovery where you are required to wade your sore body in the sea.

Monday was a public holiday but the players were at Alberton at 9am, beginning with groin, hamstring and ankle power tests to see how our bodies were holding up.

Then there is an upper body weights session, more ice bathing and each player has his game scrutinised with his line coach.

From there it was a leadership meeting, followed by a team meeting, a light training session and a recovery session.

Tuesday was the players’ day off but most headed to the club for some extra recovery and skill work.

It was the day the St Kilda win was put to bed and the focus turned completely to Sydney.

On Wednesday we examined the Swans, their key players, how they play and which opponents we might get.

That was followed by a main training session and more recovery. We broke for lunch and then returned for indoor touch or craft sessions where skill and stoppage work were high on the agenda.

Then it was more recovery time, including massages.

Thursday was working through how we will set up against the Swans and cope with certain scenarios which Sydney might throw at us, such as their stoppage work.

Then it was more gym work, a recovery session, line meeting and craft (skills) session.

We trained on Friday morning, had team and line meetings and then flew to Sydney.

For some players, the nerves kick in early.

Fortunately, I’m not too bad and don’t start getting butterflies until a couple of hours before a game.

But I like my routine. I’ll have a similar routine from about Thursday afternoon to game time.

To make me feel good about my game, I’ll have an extra recovery session on Thursday and eat steak that night, which stems from playing well one week when I had steak two days out.

I like a focaccia the day before a game and will always drink two Gatorades on game eve and game day.

For dinner the night before a game I will always have pasta (fettuccine with Italian herbs, red sauce and chorizo sausage) and I’ll roll out the same breakfast on game day (six weetbix with banana and honey on top).

These are part of the superstitions and routines most players have.

Matthew Lobbe, Hamish Hartlett, Travis Boak and Kane Cornes are probably the most meticulous players at our club when it comes to routine and preparation.

Even in off seasons most players have trouble winding down.

Last year while travelling I found myself surfing the internet first thing in the morning trying to find the closest gym in Barcelona or the closest field to run on in Florence.

Even when I was enjoying a couple of quiet beers over dinner with my girlfriend I found myself being concerned with how many was enough and whether the pizza meal would blow out my skinfolds.

It sounds crazy but if you return to pre-season training in poor shape it can take you a long time to catch up with the rest of the playing group.

So it’s strange how some people question your profession and wonder how it can be full-time.

It is a great profession and I wouldn’t change it for the world.

We are lucky in that we get to hang out with of our best mates on a daily basis, chase a football around to try to entertain the public and have the privilege of helping out people in need when we can.

But to be successful, both individually and as a team, it is all-encompassing.

This article was originally published in The Advertiser and can be accessed here.