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Living with the MVP

This article was originally published on September 10, 2014, after Fyfe won his first MVP.

Fremantle defender Cameron Sutcliffe shares an insight into living with Nat Fyfe, the AFL’s Most Valuable Player… and most annoying housemate.

‘How did he do that?’

Every Fremantle supporter who’s watched Nat Fyfe play in the last couple of years would have asked that question. I’ve wondered the same thing a couple of times myself while watching Nat, even as I’ve been playing alongside him.

‘having lived with Nat for a year and a half, I’ve had the privilege of seeing how a truly elite player prepares.’

Whether he’s breaking a string of tackles and dishing out a handball to a teammate in space, floating across a pack at half-back to take a match-saving mark or gut-running from the midfield to the forward line, where he’ll win the ball and hit a teammate lace-out… it’s easy to find yourself wondering how he does it.

I’ve found myself in a fairly unique position though – because each time I’ve found myself asking that question, I’ve also known part of the answer.

Footballers are measured by what happens on game-day, and unfortunately even the most die-hard footy followers never get a real sense of how many hours of hard work go into each match. But having lived with Nat for a year and a half, while training and playing alongside him, I’ve had the privilege of seeing how a truly elite player prepares. Nat certainly has a huge amount of talent, but it’s been hard work that’s taken him to the level we’ve seen throughout 2014.

A lot of what happens on a footy field is instinct, and Nat is certainly a very instinctive player, but he’s also obsessive in his preparation. It’s easy to forget how far he’s come from a physical sense since arriving at the club. He debuted for the Dockers in 2010 as a skinny teenager who didn’t look to have the build required to play as an inside midfielder.

A little over four years later, he’s carrying an extra 15 kilograms of muscle and is a human battering ram. And he’s still only 22.

Nat does everything possible to get his body in optimum condition each week, and there have been many occasions where I’ve woken up to the sound of him coming down the stairs as he heads to the beach for an early-morning recovery session.

‘The biggest downside of having Nat live in the room above me has been listening to him bounce golf balls on the tiles, just as he knows I’m nodding off to sleep.’

I’ve never been worried by him waking me up in the morning, but I’ve had a couple of issues with him keeping me awake at night. He might be a superstar who wins games off his own boot, but he can be an annoying bugger as well. Like any bloke our age, he’s always looking for new ways to wind up his mates. The biggest downside of having Nat live in the room above me has been listening to him bounce golf balls on the tiles, just as he knows I’m nodding off to sleep.

I’ve struggled to find creative ways to get him back, but jumping out of doorways and scaring him usually does the trick – he gets frightened pretty easily for a bloke who’s so fearless on the footy field. As you’d expect though, he’s a pretty good sport and a pretty handy housemate.

Our other housemate, Alex Silvagni, tries to keep his mind off football away from the club wherever possible, which leaves Nat and I talking about footy a fair bit. We watch a few of the footy shows throughout the week – AFL360 is our favourite – and regularly chat about how we can get better and prepare for the weekend, often over a game of Halo on the Xbox.

Nat has a great footy brain, and whether he’s at the club or at home, he’s always coming up with fresh ideas that might work on the field. As we’ve all seen, Nat’s got a pretty handy set of tricks, and can generally find a way to turn a difficult match-up to his advantage. There aren’t too many players who can match Nat’s strength around the ball, and those that can generally can’t hold their own against him in the air.

He’s had plenty of big moments throughout 2014, but it’s those times where he’s gone forward that have stuck out most to me. His stoppage work is elite and when he’s able to sneak forward to take a couple of big marks, and kick goal or two, he regularly proves to be a match-winner.

It’s amazing what Nat’s achieved already, and scary to think about what he will have accomplished when he hangs up the boots in a decade or so. An AFL career can be exhausting, both physically and mentally, but I know Nat is well placed to deal with any challenge that comes his way.

The media interest in Nat is intense and the expectations that sit on his shoulders are extreme. But Nat never gets ahead of himself and deals with the harder parts of footy with the typical laid-back, country-bloke manner that we’ve come to expect from him.

All the while, he just keeps working away. That’s how he’s been able to achieve everything he has so far, and why he’ll continue to leave the rest of us shaking our heads, wondering ‘how did he do that?’

Read about all the award winners at last night’s AFL Players’ MVP Awards.