I drove down one of the goat’s tracks behind town yesterday, towards home, stopping off at the footy oval, where it all smoothes out into thin, second-hand bitumen roads. The grass was long, everything grey drizzle, rolling hills and mountains that disappeared into low, shifting clouds. My feet weren’t itching at all.

It all looked like such a bush back-lot. A mill to one side, a farm somewhere behind it, beef cattle to the other side. Just the one house in a paddock across the road, that’s produced four brothers for the club. All tall, all strong.

I walked a lap with the dog, which took forever. How the hell was I belting out 3, 5, 8 of them before training not two months ago? Man, laps. Sometimes you shuffle, sometimes you go hard, sometimes the first two are the hardest, as if your legs are led, before your heart starts pumping and it all kicks in.

I remembered running out into them and the cold, dark rain on winter Tuesdays. Trying to stop the fingers going numb, letting out a curse or a crazy whoop.

Sometimes they’re a punishment the team is given, until we’re hurting, sucking in air.


And the only ones that really rankle me are the ones the coach gives us when he can’t think of another drill.

You get back from a couple and see him look left and right and say: “Do two more…”


Harry Madden tells a great story of wanting to do a bit extra, so he would run laps, but developed a hamstring problem in one leg. “Hm, best you stay out of training, and run more laps until it comes good,” the club said. He ran laps, he ran laps. Month after month the hammie just got worse. Doctors were called in, specialists. He was worried about his career. Somehow, one leg was shorter than the other, none of their cures or diagnosis’ were helping a damn.

It’s a terrible feeling, being slowly gripped, imprisoned, by injury like that.

Finally, a year or so in, frustrated, angry, he went to a physiotherapist who picked the problem, straight up, and said: “You’re tall, football ovals have a slight undulation, try occasionally running the other way.”



At one team, where I should have been a walk up start, but was always made borderline by local politics and favoured sons, I would SPRINT ten laps before every training, finishing at an air-sucking crawl. Not pace myself, not for a step.

Just go hard.

The fitter I got, the harder I went.

After a few months, the coach pulled me aside.

“Hey, stop with those laps before training. Can ya do them on another night when no-one can see ya? It’s annoying me and the boys.”

Me and the boys.


The most heartbreaking lap I did was when I broke my collarbone a few weeks before a Grand Final. I’d never won a Premiership. I tried to run a few, bluff my way through, and collapsed with pain half way into my first one.


When I won a Ressies flag in Tassie, we jogged a lap, laughing, talking the piss. It was the best!


The next year, when, in my 40s, after 28 years of trying, I finally won a Senior Premiership, by the time the medal presentations were done there was no point. It was country footy. Most of the crowd had gone home or to the pub! Our supporters were already gathered around.

We went straight back to the rooms, to shout the song, drink grog and raise some hell!

The boys acted like they had just won another flag, which they had, but my ribs were bruised. Game adrenaline gone, I lay on the rub-down table, sucking air, taking it in.

All I felt was this slow, brilliant weight in my bones, and, at the same time, the passing of a weight. Like a washing away of wrongs and sins.


When I coached the kids last year, for their pre-training warm up, I would send them, in groups of four or five, up the oval and back a few times, at half pace to begin with, building to 3/4rds. Each group with a footy. Touching it. Marking it, handballing, small kicks.

Getting their bodies ready for the sort of running they were going to do, that they did on Saturdays. Each of them touching the footy 30, 50 times more than if they’d been doing damn laps.


Between drills, I’d send them on a jog, straight towards the furthest goal, with every football the club had.

Never around the boundary. Straight up the guts. Good habits. Always, up the guts.




On the whole, I hate ‘em! Just because those boring fuckers have underpinned my playing days, doesn’t mean the next generation have to do the same…


I thought about too much while walking a lap through the Tassie drizzle. It was taking too long, starting to rain. The dog could run behind the ute if it needed some work.

I cut across the oval, from the coaches box, straight for my vehicle, crossing the boundary as if meeting the team doing warm up laps, laughing, talking about their weekends, being mates, none of them realising how young and fit they are, one or two lazy bastards trailing off the back.


  1. Matt,

    When we went back to Queensland I was 10. And despite being footy nuts it just didn’t enter the consciousness to go looking for a junior footy side (even though we’d have had to travel to Toowoomba to be involved. We were in a rugby league town so my brothers and I did what you did in Oakey – played rugby league. At school (weight footy – a very good idea) and for the local club.

    Our under 13 coach had no idea. Oakey is frost country so the footy grounds are rock hard and bone dry from late autumn for the rest of the season. OUr coach had no drills, and as you say, would use running drills to fill the time. His favourite was to form an Indian-file line and run around the ground. The last bloke had to leave the end of the line and sprint to the front, at which point the next one would go. We did this for a long time. We all had shin splints. And we didn’t learn any skills in what is a skills-based game.

    Actually he did have one drill – that was to bring the blind-side winger in to make the extra man between the half-back and five eighth when the scrum was near a touch line. I don’t think we ever used it.

  2. Matt Zurbo says:

    John, what a great, super frustrating reply/piece! A great read than makes me angry through familiarity at the same time. Look at the bright side, you got to embrace two codes! Ha.

  3. not sure if it is a coincidence, but the stronger sides i have played in have had little rules on the training track that everyone understands and respects….

    my favourite is “round the posts” – if someone takes the shortcut inside the goal posts when jogging the warm-up laps, you may as well be playing for the opposition that weekend… the group will berate and shame you into going back around the posts – the same as everyone else – so much so that you never even think about doing it. you just don’t.

    its only a little thing, but knowing that every single player is going to do the same thing everytime and run around the outside of those posts builds something within the team… strength maybe? trust?

    whatever it is, you need it to win games of footy…

  4. Malby Dangles says:

    I was terrible at laps but then again I was terrible at footy. I did see Carlton players run laps once at a pre season training back in the early 90s when the Blues (for some reason) did a session at my high school. Craig Bradley started running 10 minutes after everyone else but he did more laps than everyone by the finish. He was fast! Harry Madden started with everyone and ran the fewest.

  5. Matt Zurbo says:

    #22, that is so spot on! There is an attitude in most winning teams. A collective hunger.

    Malby, you are a legend! I can so see that! As Dwayne Russel told us when he was coaching Colac, “There’s more than one type of courage. Yes, Bradley can be a bit soft in packs, but nobody in the game pushes their body through so much pain like he does with his running.”

  6. Soft or not, Braddles did a number on us in the 95 GF. His running ability was supreme.

    Great article, Matt. Really enjoyed how it’s rythym and feel.

    Don’t really remember laps too unkindly, but one year, the coach decided on having an 8am run every Sunday morning. It would vary between 5 and 10km. The number of blokes chucking after a heavy night was something never forgotten.

  7. Skip of Skipton says:

    Ever see the ghost of Cliff Young shuffling around down there Matt? He ran a few laps in his day.

  8. pamela sherpa says:

    Beaut article Matt. Laps seemed to be an integral part of sporting life for most of us. When playing netball in the country, doing laps of the footy oval was the norm before training on the netball courts. Interesting point about the sloping grounds.

  9. Andrew Else says:

    We’ve got a bloke who hip n shoulders every post as we go around. Everyone loves it.

    At my previous club, we had to stride out 3 laps before warm up started, and our (playing) coach led the way. I was 21 and could keep up with him after 1hr in the car, polishing off a box of BBQ shapes and just heading off with no stretching. No wonder the old blokes gave it to me

  10. Matt Zurbo says:

    Thanks Pete! I have chundered on Sunday Sessions before. Our coach canceled the Sunday runs when they kept leading to Sunday sessions, though!

    Skip, hell yeah! Many a Cliff story! He used to compete with his brother in spud digging, and before they knew it the day was done and they had a week’s worth by normal standards. He used to shuffle 30kms for mild and bread. When he won the big race, a Colac car dealer sponsored him a ute. He used to drive the ridge as slow as he ran. Hilarious! Towards the end, you would be driving down the mountains, towards Gellibrand, miles from anywhere,, and see him walking. He would hear the car, and start to shuffle, give that Cliff Young wave as you passed, and go back to walking as soon as you faded from his failing eyesight. What a champion!.

  11. Matt Zurbo says:

    Pamela! I used to love it when the Otway girls did a lap!c Only happened one or so a year, though. A piece on netball coming up next week!!

    Andrew, that bloke sounds like a classic. Does he play hard?

  12. Well matt did you ever realise that all cows are beef cows lol
    Love ya mate see you Saturday or sooner

  13. Saw the Carlton boys train yesterday, as you do in downtown Abu Dhabi. Laps were a bit different than I remember. Group was split into 4 and sent out to the corners of a 80 by 50 metre rectangle. The groups on the long sides had to run through while the short sides jogged. Talls and smalls together. Eddie and Jeff Garlett doing it easy, laughing and carrying a footy. 10 minutes of that, a quick drink and on to a skills drill.

    Of course, this started at 7am with an hour of grappling on the beach, more group laps and skills, and followed by an Auskick session with 150 kids til 11am. After that, who knows. All this after 2 weeks at altitude to build the fitness base.

    Today was a day off for the lazy sods…

  14. Matt Zurbo says:

    Gus, Goddamn I wish I was there!!

Leave a Comment