Gains from pain of footy pre-season torture

After retiring at the age of 29 with a year to run on a contract, I have had my decision reasonably well debated since. 

The question I am asked more than others is ‘why did you retire so early?’.

The following outline of an average AFL pre-season in my time, 1995 to 2005, might allow some people to understand and gain perspective on just how hard today’s players work.

One area that I found hindered St Kilda’s consistency on-field was a lack of consistency throughout the fitness and conditioning staff.

I estimate that over 11 years, St Kilda would have employed up to 20 different fitness staff, all with different ideas and regimes.

We simply never were able to capitalise on having a really strong influence from this department.

On average, in my time, a pre-season would consist of 16 sessions per week. 

The basis would be four physically and mentally demanding skills sessions lasting anywhere from 90 minutes to two hours. 

A high level of intensity was not only expected, but demanded from coaches and team-mates.

The hardest aspect for me was the running sessions. Four a week, including one on Saturday mornings, that pushed you to the brink every time. There was not much thought of management or wellbeing then, even if it was only in the recent past. 

The area that brings back the most nightmares though was the weights. 

As a young kid you just want to run and kick the footy, but at a high level being strong and ready is obviously paramount. 

Maximum efforts on chin-ups, bench press, squats and dead lifts among other exercises after an exhausting skills or running session almost broke me, regularly. 

Finally, there would be a mix of bike, swimming, yoga or boxing squeezed in to any gap available in a week. Again, this came down to the fitness coach and his favourites.

Some players love pre-season, but most don’t. 

As footballers, we want to touch the footy and play games. 

And then you get a player like Robert Harvey. Harvs was an inspirational figure for me throughout my career and I will shed a little light now on why.

As a 13-year-old, Robert ran a marathon. His father had ran them before and was training for yet another. Robert joined him and completed the marathon at his first attempt.

The one area that could afford you some grace over pre-season was age. In my second last pre-season, the St Kilda Football Club in its wisdom directed Harvs not to join us pre-Christmas and save himself for the big year.

Within two weeks of doing his own training, Robert was ordered back to our pre-season to lessen the load. Quite extraordinary to think, a man on his own, and now knowing what an AFL pre-season consists of, could outdo and outwork a group of men almost half his age. 

There are some tall tales in footy, but I can assure you the legend of Robert Harvey and his workrate is all fact.

The Bendigo Flight Centre Summer Cup is an initiative to reward our best trainer over pre season with a holiday package to Queensland.

Recently we ran a time trial, with Daniel Toman, Lachie Crosbie and Matt Farrelly rounding out the top three.  

Daniel’s time of 7 minutes 25 seconds for 2.4km was outstanding. 

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