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The rookie diaries

Former Carlton rookie Matthew Lodge details his first week at the Blues during the 2012 pre-season.

From meeting his idol to beach wrestling in the rain at 6AM, Lodge provides a great insight into the roller coaster our new draftees are riding at the moment.

Monday, November 21

Day one.

How was I feeling? Genuine excitement amid a sense of struggling to comprehend that, after years of dreams and ambitions and kicking the footy in the backyard, pretending to be different favourite players, I was finally here. On the flip side, there was that distinct sentiment that can only be attached to being the new kid arriving at a high school or the young naïve worker, who is too afraid to ask where the toilet is, on their first day on the job.

Advised there was to be a meeting to welcome everyone to pre-season for Season 2012 at 7.30, I waited in front of my locker (No. 33) as, gradually, all the boys piled into the change rooms exchanging personal handshakes, hugs and greeting each other like the best of mates, having not seen each other since the end of the season. Blokes I had admired on the TV such as Bryce Gibbs and Marc Murphy, among others, calmly wandered over to shake my hand and welcome me to the club. Chris Judd, for years my idol and the sole poster on my wall, was now my colleague. Was this for real?

A call from outside signified for all the boys to exit the rooms and file into the meeting room, many more introducing themselves and warmly welcoming me. By five minutes, I’d forgotten most of their names. A quick meeting to welcome the boys back and introduce me and fellow draftee, Dylan Buckley, prompted applause and few cat-calls, received with mutual laughter by the whole group. Just an hour later, we completed a yo-yo test much to the groan of the playing group. The yo-yo test, similar in structure to the beep test, is an anaerobic running speed testing for repeat-sprint endurance. Whilst I struggled and was among the initial group to drop out at a satisfactory level, Andrew Walker glided along the ground on his way to an elite test result, as the boys roared their approval, urging him on to great heights. Minutes after that, the boys were out on the track, in front of a small audience ofCarltondiehards.

The warm-up was as light as the mood, as Eddie Betts filled in all the boys on his latest stories as Mitch Robinson tried to attract everyone’s attention to Brock “Dirty”McLean’s moustache grown for Movember.

The group expanded into full ground drills where the ball zipped around at a lightning pace. I knew from watching in the stands that footy was fast, I didn’t know it was this fast. It would be seconds between Marc Murphy marking the ball in the back pocket, to the transition to myself on a half-forward flank. Balls flew everywhere, the ball touching the ground on minimally, as I kicked and sprinted to the next cone, wherefore almost instantly, I’d be off and running again. A whistle and the call was yelled out from coach Brett Ratten for a new drill. A ten second explanation, yelled encouragement and some excited screaming from Robinson and the next drill began. The only breaks were for water as the players worked with intense diligence, their discipline almost military-like. This was their profession, and it was becoming mine too.

Within an hour, the skills session was over. As we walked off towards the change rooms, the beloved supporters, who had stayed to end, crept up to us, with expectant looks, holding out a camera or autograph books, filled with every player to have played for the Carlton Football club in the last five years.

Before I knew what was happening, we too, were signing autographs and having photos taken with the loyal supporters. Not bad for both of us on our first day!

After a lunch, we split into weights groups, which ranged from the more senior players, down to the first-years and the boys who needed to bulk up. These groups rotated through a skill acquisition sessions, hydrotherapy, optional physio treatment and, of course, weights.

Then came the weights. The strength coach “Rexy” (Stuart Livingstone) is stocky and short, but what he may lack in height, he makes up for in general intimidation. What Rexy says is law, according to all the boys. These weights sessions are four times a week for hour-and-a-half sessions, triple any other group in our attempt to ‘put on some size’. After all that, at 5.30pm, day one was finally finished. The new career had begun, the first day of many. I hope.

Tuesday, November 22

Another day and another 5.30am wake-up.  Not content with sitting around upon again arriving early, I ventured into the altitude room to complete a 40-minute bike program. In blind exhaustion and sweat, I noticed a few coaches pass by the room and nodding their approval as they walked on. Little did I know that at 8.30, following a cross-training group skill acquisition session, I had another altitude bike session followed by an intensive boxing session.

After the boxing, I hunched over clutching the hem of my shorts – there was a barking order to stand up and ‘suck them in’. There was to be no signs of fatigue, no matter what you’d been through and no matter where you were.

Just before lunch, all the boys filed again into the meeting room where the modified pre-season programme was explained, with the emphasis on the club’s trademark of being “Ruthless” and a focus of using our strengths as our weapons and improving our weaknesses to the level of our strengths.

Judd, who’d been silent the whole time, spoke up. And the room fell silent.

“From seeing the programme, Herb,” he began, the silence radiating respect. “It looks that you could just simply go through the programme, complete everything that’s there and get nothing out of it.”

You could see an expression of agreement upon many of the boys’ faces as Judd went on. “Our expectation this year is to win the premiership right? That means that we all have to improve; from the senior players right down to ‘Lodgey’ and ‘Bucks’.”

Whilst, being mentioned by my nickname by a man who I have idolised most of my footballing life and is stamped across the only poster in my old bedroom back home in Possum Creek, I was just as motivated as anyone that nothing I was going to do was to be half-arsed. Every box now had to be ticked.

Wednesday, November 23

This morning began with a meeting outlining today’s session. Upon looking at my own schedule, it was only a half-day, with no weights session scheduled for the afternoon – the only ‘day-off’ given to our weights groups given that we had scheduled sessions on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays.

Before 9.30 rolled around, everyone had an hour’s preparation,  that could include anything from strapping, to massages, to physio appointments. There was a rush early on to the whiteboard to get there first and book a favourable time treatment.

For me, I had an introduction to grappling. ‘Grappling’ is more or less a slightly senile term given to tackling techniques and wrestling, taken by John Donohue. JD never raises his tones, nor says too much, it’s his quiet nature however that warns you that he’s not someone to cross. These sessions, are full on, ranging from pummelling (a warm up tackling technique), to 1-on-1 tackling and, at the end, UFC-style wrestling. In such a session, there’s not really any such thing as rules.

The main training session went for three hours, with the trial of a ‘half-time review’ setup by the coaches to make the training session simulate game conditions, allowing for players to get in the habit of hydration and refuelling at training, in the same way that they would at the half-time interval of a game.

Despite the up-and-about nature of Mitch Robinson and Eddie Betts, it was straight to business. Training was sharp; the kicks were low, grass cutters, slamming into your chest, the handballs, long and accurate and the 40 voices of encouragement, direction and criticism echoed around the emptyVisyPark. The drills were designed to simulate matches. Game plans were executed in varying ways that will display how Carlton wants to attack. Blokes who wore bibs acting as defenders were expected to ‘treat the scenario as if you were trying to get the ball back when playing for Carlton.

A game simulation drill was filmed from the far end of the goals on top through a fish-eye-like lens displaying the whole ground. At the half-time review, we filed into the rooms to view the footage, point out where we went well and where we went wrong and why. A few minutes later, we were out on the track again for the next half-hour or so, rectifying the mistakes previously made and proving the benefits of video footage.

An extra cardio session, hydrotherapy, stretching, some physio and a rub-down concluded my third day of ‘work’. I now feel settled as the boys have been quick to comment on my failings, provide encouragement, yet be equally as generous in their praise. The key for me now is too continue the hard work and not take my foot off the pedal.

Thursday, November 24

Basically, an identical day to Tuesday. A gruelling bike session in the heat and altitude room was followed by a boxing session with Timmy. Timmy is a short and round man, and aside from a stern face that is boyish when he does smile, could easily be mistaken for being a pushover if you ever initially came to blows with him in the street.

Not being quick enough off the bikes to find a partner, I was partnered with Timmy who corrected my poor boxing technique and took me through combos and the art of hitting hard – which is exactly what he did in return to me. With the pads on, he’d call “1, 2”, in which I’d hit right, left. He’d call it a few times stepping towards me, forcing me to step back. After I’d done maybe four of these combos, just to check I was on the ball, he’d throw back two haymakers of his own. More often than not, I wasn’t ready and copped both swings across the jaws, leaving me more shocked than anything

Our skill acquisition session followed the two cardio sessions, allowing only a slight break from the high intensity of the bike and the gloves. Here, specific skills are dealt with the relevant coaches. Just three days in, the coaches have been able to identify my weakness of contested marking and have thrown me in with the power forwards for my own benefit. These sessions have seen me paired up with the two big ruckmen in Shaun Hampson (208cm, 115kg) and Matthew Kreuzer (202cm, 108kg), just as a beginning point. Against such huge men, it was all I could do scrag them, just so they didn’t get the ball, let alone me actually marking it!

The marking specialist coach, former Collingwood champion, Gavin “Rowdy” Brown came up to me after the session, spending an extra 10 minutes showing me some footage they had taken from just that session. His individual approach, which we put into practise, gave me tremendous confidence. I might be a rookie in his first week, but I’m certainly not being treated like the last player on the list.

Friday, November 25

Whilst easily one of the most enjoyable weeks of my life, when Friday rolled around, I was certainly glad. Through general muscular soreness and tiredness, it had certainly been a gruelling introduction into the life of a professional AFL player.

Today was much the same as Monday, with training in the morning followed by further skill acquisition, hydrotherapy and weights in the afternoon culminating in another five o’clock finish.

I was wrong to think, however, that my week had finished, as posted up on the wall was a sheet alerting everyone as to which additional session the boys had. These sessions ranged from bike, to hill sprints, to skills, to swimming and grappling. Want to have a guess which one I scored?

Yep, grappling. At 6am down at Kerferd Road Pier on the Albert Park Beach. It was to be taken by Rowdy instead of JD, but when I looked at who I was pitted against with the names of Aaron “AJ” Joseph, Matt “Watto” Watson, Kane “Sugar” Lucas and Brett “Bird” Thornton; yeah, I was a bit anxious.

That night, I was lucky enough to catch up with a friend of mine, Rebecca, who I hadn’t seen in about a decade. To her credit, she invited me along to her friends 18th and, in great wingman fashion introduced me as “Matt, he’s playing for Carlton now”.

Upon such an introduction, every reaction was one of star-struck awe and followed with questions such as “Is it hard?”, “What’s it like with Juddy?” or the slightly more derogatory, “I hate Carlton.” While I admit it was humbling to receive such attention, it highlighted for me how much these Melbournian’s love their football. And we’re still four or five months out from the commencement of season 2012.

Saturday, November 26

This time, my hand came down on top of the alarm at 4.45am. I looked out the window, it was a chilly 9 degrees and it was raining. At this time, given any other circumstance, I would’ve hit snooze and rolled over for many more hours. Yet, the motivation of my new career was more than adequate excuse to stumble out of bed.

The forty-minute drive to Albert Park didn’t exactly fill me with excitement as the rain pelted down harder. I pulled up first and waited under the shelter of the pier as AJ, Watto, Bird and Sugar wandered over with a Rowdy turning up a little while later.

The boys had never had anyone other than JD take grappling before, so there was a sigh of relief when Browny said that we’d only be going for forty minutes in a more ‘controlled’ environment – in other words, no wrestling.

Before we even began, our first task was clearing an area of sand devoid of used syringes thrown onto the beach. Then we got stuck into the money stuff of pummelling, bear hugs, tackling and sumo-wrestling. Rowdy worked us hard, our rests consisting of 200m sprints up and down the beach. True his word though, the session lasted exactly forty minutes and we all felt relieved that we didn’t have to kill each other, in a sense. Despite the grunting and desire to smash our opponents during the drills, the mateship of being teammates returned when we went for breakfast at a beachside café, as the clouds cleared and the sun burst into the sky.

Browny told me that the club wanted me to do a time-trial and so together; we drove back to the club. The time-trial (or ‘park run’) is a 3.2km run around Princes Park, the park that surrounds Carlton’s facilities at Visy Park. It’s not a tough run, but more a wearing run around a virtually rectangular track where on the home straight, you run into a stiff breeze, looking at the finish line for the last four hundred metres. I stumbled across the line with a time of 11.02, putting me in the top eighteen for the time trial. A good start,  with plenty of room for improvement.

As I went inside and washed off, I was glad to finish my first week and even happier for the sleep-in that was coming tomorrow. Come the end of tomorrow, it was time to look to week two, which include the introductions of the new draftees on Wednesday.

You can read more of Matthew’s work by visiting Bound For Glory News