Sport AFL The true story behind your AFL club’s pre-season
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The true story behind your AFL club’s pre-season

Joel Selwood
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Well, it’s been an epic pre-season, full of time-trials, intra-club practice matches, weak pretexts for press conferences and other non-events. With the hot, confusing mess that is the NAB Challenge almost upon us, here are some of the big pre-season stories that may have escaped your attention.

Adelaide

Croweaters swallow humble pie – sort of

Adelaide executive Nigel Smart (see below for some classic pre-season form from Nige) has sought to defend the Crows from a wave of criticism after the AFL rejected the club’s bid to wear a South Australia guernsey during the Round 2 Showdown against Port Adelaide. Smart acknowledged the inflammatory move was ‘a bit of a flog effort’, but said Port Adelaide’s opposition to the appropriation of the State-Of-Origin jumper was motivated by jealousy.

“Yeah look, the boys have been flying in pre-season, and their skinfolds are just ridiculous at this point,” Smart said. “Basically, I think Kochie and his drones just can’t hack how good we look in red – I mean, some of the lads are pretty easy on the eye.

“Look, we’ll respect the AFL’s wishes, but no-one forced those clowns to wear teal. Just sayin’,” Smart added.

Brisbane

Leppitsch: Brown to be redeployed as roving scarecrow

New coach Justin Leppitsch has wasted no time making his presence felt at the Gabba, introducing a bold new gameplan built around veteran key forward Jonathan Brown.

“Yeah look Browny’s an intimidating unit, and his sheer presence would be an asset to any team. I mean, his skinfolds are a bit of a joke, and he can’t even stand unassisted anymore, but we’re probably looking at getting some of the younger blokes to wheel him to the stoppages around the ground, Hannibal Lecter style.

“To his credit, Browny’s really bought into the gameplan – he’s pretty selfless, the big fella. His attitude is that if acting like a glorified scarecrow will get this club playing finals footy, then he’s willing to do it.”

Carlton

Blue boys burnt by blundering backroom bozo

At Fort Visy, Carlton’s injury-hit preseason went from bad to worse, when a club official mistakenly swapped sunscreen for vitamin E cream before a skills session. Chrome-domed Chris Judd and the pasty Mitch ‘Mitchy R’ Robinson were the worst affected, with witnesses reporting a visibly-distressed Judd leaving training early, his head allegedly boiling “like lava”.

It caps off a bad week for the Blues, after a contaminated batch of wax left the club’s metrosexual contingent with tell-tale limps and some very nasty rashes indeed.

Dane Swan
Flying: Dane Swan. Photo: Getty

Collingwood

Hot Pie runs fast

Collingwood’s annual time-trial on the Tan threw up a surprise winner in Dane Swan, who beat out his teammates on the famous two-lap circuit. Not noted for his off-season discipline, Swan was typically nonchalant about the win.

“Yeah look, ‘Sideboob’ (Steele Sidebottom) was right up my clacker at the start, and ‘Ding Dong’ (Scott ‘Pendulum’ Pendlebury) got a bit up close and personal toward the end, but I just engaged the old warp drive, and Bob’s yer uncle,” Swan said.

“The boys have been ripping into me about my skinfolds, which are pretty sloppy to be honest, so it’s nice to put the wind up ‘em. I might get a tattoo to go with the Premiership one, I reckon,” he added.

Essendon

Just a normal pre-season, nothing to report

Up at Windy Hill, Essendon have had a completely normal, unremarkable start to their pre-season preparation, said interim head coach Mark Thompson.

“We’ve done some fitness work and a little bit of skills work so far. Completely standard stuff. Definitely nothing exciting or out of the ordinary going on,” Thompson said, before adding, “We are looking forward to football.”

Fremantle

Lyon’s lions literally caged

Despite reports of unrest within the playing group, Fremantle captain Matthew Pavlich has declared the Dockers’ unconventional pre-season regimen a success. Noted disciplinarian Ross Lyon bucked the trend towards altitude training, preferring to send his charges to an abandoned Siberian prison camp.

Speaking at the unveiling of the Ben Allan Memorial Ice Bath, a joint project with the Fremantle City Council, a haggard Pavlich defended Lyon’s extreme methods.

“Look, it was a little bit different, and obviously we’re all a bit psychologically scarred, but being forced to subsist on rats and snowmelt has probably brought the group together,” a frail, haunted Pavlich said. “And it’s been great for the old skinfolds, too, let me tell you.”

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Stevie J spies the calipers. Photo: Getty

Geelong

Skipper Selwood promises effort, football

Geelong skipper Joel Selwood is confident that his side can bounce back from their heartbreaking preliminary final loss in 2013. Speaking at the announcement of new major sponsor Great Wall Motors, Selwood was bullish about the Cats’ prospects.

“Yeah look, some of the younger boys were flat as a tack,” Selwood said of the loss, “but they weren’t Robinson Crusoe in that regard. That’s footy – when the dust settles, you’ve just got to dust yourself off and go again.”

When asked if the Geelong list was capable of improving on last year’s efforts, Selwood was upbeat. “We’ve got some experienced heads in the leadership group, and we’ve put those heads together, and agreed to keep our heads down and keep working hard. You just have to stay positive, keep your head up, keep hitting the track hard, and the dust will take care of itself. We’re training well as a group – even Stevie J’s got some next-level skinfolds going this year, so yeah.”

Gold Coast

Black sheep Brown goes bananas

Guy McKenna has responded dismissively to suggestions that his young team are living in fear after former player Campbell Brown reportedly went on a rampage at their Southport training base, allegedly using young ruckman Daniel Gorringe as an improvised mace.

“Yeah look, Campbell’s obviously gone beserk, and Dan’s scone is a little dusty,” McKenna admitted, “but we’re confident that this will bring some of the younger guys together. It’s unfortunate that Campbell’s crossed the Metricon on this occasion, but luckily we’ve been able to lock him in the trophy room – he won’t be able to do much damage in there.”

GWS

It’s breakout season for young Giants

GWS have been forced to cancel a pre-season fan meet-and-greet after a reported acne outbreak left much of the Giants’ young list in a less-than photogenic state.

“Yeah look, we thought about pushing ahead with it, but ultimately we’re trying to win over new fans, not scare their kids away,” said co-captain Callan Ward. “It was like Dawn of the Dead for a while there.”

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Memories: Alastair Clarkson. Photo: Getty

Hawthorn

Clarkson confident, but misses his Buddy

Alastair Clarkson had to cut a press conference short after his emotions seemingly got the better of him. Speaking at the announcement of Chiko Rolls as the club’s new hot snack partner, Clarkson was answering a routine question about the Hawks’ Premiership aspirations. “Look, I fully expect us to cruise to back-to-back flags, but–”, he paused, “but it’s just not the same without the big fella.

“We’re confident that ‘Norm’ (Jack Gunston), ‘Coconut’ (Jarryd Roughead) and ‘Big Mac’ (Ben McEvoy) will be able to replace his scoreboard impact, but,” Clarkson pondered, as he stared into the middle distance, “how do you replace those big puppy-dog eyes?” Clarkson then excused himself, leaving captain Luke Hodge, lip visibly trembling, to answer the remaining questions.

Melbourne

Training down the house

Incoming coach Paul Roos said talking heads who questioned the cellar dwelling Demons should ‘watch out’, lest they ‘get what they’re after’.

Speaking at the official unveiling of the Robbie Flower Memorial Jacuzzi, Roos said while he enjoyed the relative peace of his sabbatical, he was excited to be returning to the AFL fold after three years. “I’m an ordinary guy,” Roos said, “strange, but not a stranger”.

Furthermore, Roos claimed that the Demons were ‘training down the house’, just as they did last pre-season, and the pre-season before that. As Roos cryptically put it: “Three hundred sixty five degrees, training down the house!”

“MY house,” he added, for emphasis.

North Melbourne

Shinboners now proud football owners

Coach Brad Scott is predicting a dramatic upswing in North Melbourne’s on-field competitiveness, after signing off on an AFL funding plan that will see the Shinboners train with actual footballs for the first time in a decade.

“Look, some people consider skills training to be a distraction from the main event: reducing skinfolds,” Scott said, “but I’m pretty confident that being able to train with footballs during the week will give us a real advantage on match day, not just in terms of skill execution, but in terms of composure as well.

“If you review the tapes from last year, you can see that the boys are just fascinated by these bouncy leather sacs – it’s freaked them out a little bit, to be honest – and it’s definitely cost us some momentum at key points in a few games.”

Port Adelaide

Last season was a fluke, admits Hinkley

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Duds: Boak and Wingard. Photo: Getty

Speaking at the opening of the Kochie Memorial Car Park, a joint project with the Alberton City Council, Port Adelaide coach Ken Hinkley offered a rather pessimistic assessment of the Power’s 2014 prospects, despite exceeding expectations in 2013. “Yeah look, obviously we made the finals last year,” Hinkley said, “but I’m fully expecting the boys to rest on their laurels and go backwards this year. There’s not a lot of upside in this list, so I’ve just told the boys to enjoy themselves, and make the most of that fat pay cheque while it lasts.”

Press: But what about Chad Wingard? Surely he’ll be looking to kick on?

Hinkley: Nah, that was a fluke.

Press: And Justin Westh–

Hinkley: Chancer.

Press: But surely Travis Boak…

Hinkley: Dud.

Press: But he’s an elite midfielder!

Hinkley: You wouldn’t be saying that if you saw his skinfolds mate.

Richmond

Tiger cub ready to play football well

Over the Yarra at Punt Road Oval, Richmond held its first intra-club practice match, and there were promising signs from new recruit Zeke Treacle. The tall utility, taken at Number 87 in the national draft, ran around purposefully, and selflessly allowed Jack Riewoldt to jump on his head on more than one occasion.

Coach Damien Hardwick believes Treacle has a big role to play this year. “Yeah look, the first thing we noticed about ‘Syrup’ was his total lack of match awareness. The second thing was his skinfolds, which were just beautiful. The third thing, though, was his willingness to do the little, pointless things. Every club needs that guy that plays about three games as a sub, runs around aimlessly and then gets quietly delisted, and we see Zeke really owning that role for us this year.”

St Kilda

Bullish Riewoldt out to defy detractors, science

St Kilda skipper Nick Riewoldt insisted that despite yet another knee operation, he was on track for Round 1. Riewoldt said the September procedure was a success, and he was ready to get back to his best.

“Yeah look, obviously I haven’t been able to feel my lower leg for years, but footy’s not really about being able to feel your limbs,” Riewoldt said. “My game’s more about instinct, but at the same time it’s more about structures and buying into the gameplan.”

When asked whether the Saints were officially in transition mode, Riewoldt was bullish. “Look, anyone talking about a rebuild obviously hasn’t seen our skinfolds,” he said. “I’m 32 years of age, and I really feel like I’m coming into my prime – as far as I’m concerned, the window is still open for the St Kilda footy club.”

Sydney

Too much of the Goodes thing

Despite the capture of Lance ‘Boil’ Franklin, it hasn’t been smooth sailing in the harbour city, with reports of tension between self-proclaimed Best Bloke Ever® Adam Goodes and the rest of the playing group.

Word coming out of the Swans camp is that renowned nice guy Goodes is a changed man, refusing to remove his Australian of the Year medal during training sessions and referring to himself as ‘the President’. As well as suffering a spate of chipped teeth and minor bruises, it seems that the famous ‘Bloods’ culture is in danger of being eroded from within.

West Coast

Bionic Waters is armed and dangerous

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Beau Waters: Fit and firing. Photo: AAP

After undergoing a radical new procedure in late January, injury prone Eagles vice-captain Beau Waters is optimistic that his woes are finally behind him. After suffering an acute infection in his right shoulder, surgeons took the drastic step of completely removing Waters’ right arm and replacing it with the arm of former first round draft disappointment Wayne Schmidt, who was delisted last year.

“Look, it’ll need to harden up a bit, but we’re on track for Round 1,” Waters said of his new appendage. “Wayne’s a nice guy, but he didn’t really cut it as a footballer. He’s rapt with the surgery, as it gives him a chance to give something back to the club that blew a draft pick on him.

“I always told him that he was a quarter of a footballer,” Waters said, “and I guess that’s now literally true.”

Western Bulldogs

Being an abstract concept difficult, concedes coach

Western Bulldogs coach Brendan McCartney admitted he felt no kinship with the abstract notion of ‘the West’ yesterday. Speaking at the unveiling of Franco Cozzo as the club’s new bedding and linen partner, McCartney spoke candidly when asked about the existential difficulty of representing a cardinal point rather than a location.

“Look, when you tell the lads they represent Footscray, they get it,” McCartney explained. “They think of delicious jam donuts – there’s pride in that. When you tell them to play for, what, over that way? [McCartney gestures over his shoulder] A direction? You’re just confusing the poor buggers.

“When you don’t know what you stand for, even the best skinfolds in the world won’t help – look at Jarrad Grant. [points at a nervous-looking child] Just look at him!”