Pre-Season Promise

Start Level 1……..BEEP…. Don’t exert too much. Just get to the line. It’s almost a walk at the start

It’s probably not a ‘beep’, to be fair. It isn’t high-pitched enough to warrant an ‘ee’. More like a ‘duuurrrrt’. It is the calling of the legendary ‘beep test’ and it is but one facet of another pre-season. My 13th pre season. Lucky for some.

I first completed ol’ Beepie in the Skinner Reserve carpark during my Western Jets pre-season 1998. We mustn’t have had any future hall-of-famers there that night as I was the last to finish (at around level 12). Whilst I’ve always been able to run over a distance, I was 192cm and a back-up key position player. Such players shouldn’t be leading the fitness tests. Our record in season ’98? 1-17.

Start Level 3…..duuuurrrrt…..probably should start jogging now

The next year we went to Barooga for our pre-season ‘camp’. We caught the bus up, slept on the floor in the local gym, set our goals for the year (by the end, we’d already won the flag), completed team-bonding activities and played a practice match against The Rams on the Sunday. I look back on that weekend fondly. I got to know my teammates, I was warmed by the hospitality of the local footy club and we had a tough win in the heat. We even sang the song. My family came up to watch too. To think all this pre-season love was achieved without a drop of grog.

Start Level 5….duurrrt….. Just shuffle. Just shuffle

I’ve never understood why hill-running is seen to be so valuable in pre-season yet is never re-visited once the real season starts. Due to my height and complete lack of core-strength, hills have never appealed to me. I still remember the Lara pre-season of ’03 when we made our way out to Fyansford. Standing at the bottom of the Hyland st hill, I knew we were in for a challenge. It was hot, windy, and I couldn’t see the top. The coach’s message was clear: “Right. We’re going to run up the top and back down again…then we’re going to do it again…..and then we’re going to do it again” Unfortunately, our coach was former Geelong footballer Paul Lynch, and as playing coach, was also our fittest player.

After negotiating the first two climbs, I began to shuffle my way into the third ascent and I’m acutely aware that I’m struggling. Moments like these are scattered throughout pre-season and to be honest, I’ve no set method to dealing with them. Usually during a long run I try to focus on my breathing, but by this stage I’ve got the pitch and volume of a locomotive from the days of the nearby Cement Works Railway. The other issue once the incline becomes steep in the feeling that you’re likely to topple over backwards at any stage. All you can do is forget that and start to think about footy and why you’re doing this training anyway. Visions start to flood your head of the missed shots at goal, the mongrel kicks, the dropped marks and the time on the bench. Funny how when inspiration is needed, your mind is still able to show you such failures. Of course, by the time you feel that you’ve spent every penny, you see the finish and you kick. Not a Black Caviar kick mind you, more a kick of the fly you thought had been dealt with – the Mortein not having yet spread entirely through its lungs.

Then when you’re driving home you start to think…..I feel fine now. I could’ve gone harder.

Start level 8….duurrrrt….. Can I still do this? What do I normally get?

Practice matches are a necessary evil. In a way, they are all about opportunities. For a fringe player, they are an opportunity to force their way into the senior side, for a senior player, they are an opportunity to re-enforce their standing in the team. Unfortunately, they can also be an opportunity to get injured. I’ve done a hamstring, a quad and an AC joint in practice matches. Nothing irritates me more. The worst was when a stray elbow caught me right in the mouth. Of course it was the first PM for the year and I hadn’t organised a mouth guard yet. One root canal later…

Start Level 12….duuurrrrrt…. What did I have for lunch? What did I eat last night? How many beers did I have on Saturday?

As tedious as it can be, pre-season is essentially about hope and the optimism that ‘new’ brings. Whether it’s the new recruit who is bigger than our last guy in that position, the new coach whose ideas are different to the last one’s, the new game plan, the new training singlets, the new motto (‘be your best for us’, ‘whatever it takes’, ‘take the next step’…I’d love to see ‘same as last year, but better’ take off). Without the re-enforcement of a match on the weekend, the feeling of hope and the need to improve are all that keeps you going.

I now have teammates that were born when I was starting high school. That is disconcerting. I remember the thrill I felt when I first started playing seniors and that I was playing with men and that they weren’t much different from me. They were the first adults I knew outside of parents, relatives and teachers. I hope my new team mates experience all the thrills I have.

Start Level 13…durrrrrt

It’s just a sprint now. All the camps, the mottos, the practice matches, the recruits, all of it just adds up to hard work. It’s work that has to be done. As the year gets longer and colder, the only focus is being able to train on Tuesday and Thursday. If you’re not fit by round 1 it’s a long, long road back.

My head is low, my arms keep pumping and though I can’t breathe, I know I’m improving. I know this is further than last time, and the time before that.

13.12. Not Bad.

About Andrew Else

Andrew has self-reported to this site as a lifetime Essendon supporter. He also played local footy for Lara and Melbourne Uni Blacks.

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