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Players always have to be on their game

The off-season is great to get away from the heart of football, but physically and mentally, the game never truly goes away.

It was in Cancun, Mexico, in late October when I found myself on a treadmill working off the few too many Coronas which had been consumed over the previous few days and weeks.

Later, when holidaying in New York, I also found myself in a gym doing weights and cardio, not just because I felt I had to, but also because I genuinely feel guilty for not doing any physical exercise.

Playing AFL is so hard already, so why make it any harder? Whether it’s in Geelong or on a holiday, being fit and healthy is always on your mind.

This is why I consider pre-season to be the part of the year that is most important.

The two or three months of extreme hard work can distinguish greatness, which is ultimately everyone’s goal.

In saying that, a lot of footballers dread this time of year. The constant exhausted feeling, the mental battle against yourself and the feeling of spewing are just part of being a footballer over summer.

What helps drive us as players is that we are all naturally competitive against each other.

It can get quite fierce at times, whether it be a fun game of table tennis or shooting hoops in the warm up area, to being out on the track. You definitely see the beast and not the beauty.

It’s a challenging few months, but it can bring out the best in people. As I see it, you can go two ways about it: take the challenge on or just float through.

Pre-season to me is about pushing the boundaries. I love the idea of improving and, if that’s for me to challenge myself mentally and physically, then I will do it to get the best result for myself and the team.

Trying to will myself to better my 2km time trial time every time, trying to beat Joel Selwood in a one-on-one contest, or even beating Stevie J in kicking snap goals. That competitive drive is how you improve.

But it’s not always the physical exercise that is the hardest. Skinfold measurements are my worst nightmare.

Who doesn’t like not eating chocolate, ice cream, drinking endless amount of soft drink?

Personally, I still have to work as hard on being disciplined in what I eat and drink as I do with my football. You want to do every little thing possible to gain and an advantage on your competitors.

The memory of falling one kick short of a grand final berth is still vivid. That feeling of knowing that everything you have worked for all year is suddenly over.

The madness over the next month or so of footy break ups, wacky Wednesday, the best and fairest and the footy trip helps you move on, but we have all returned ready to go to work.

The NAB Challenge is the final part of pre-season, where we have experimented new game plans, new faces and got a glimpse of who is going to take the next step.

Each club gets game time into their players, all in readiness for round one.

All the gruelling weight sessions, the constant grind of training, even those little personal gym sessions in Mexico, have led us to this moment.

We have the Crows at Simonds Stadium on Thursday night. Once we cross that white line, let’s be honest, there’s no holding back.

This article originally appeared in the Geelong Advertiser. To view the original article click here