“TRUST the job I’ve done, trust yourself and get back out there and go flat out.”
They are the words from renowned knee surgeon Julian Feller that have given Strathfieldsaye forward Lachlan Sharp the confidence to – pardon the pun – take the Bendigo Football-Netball League by storm early in 2017.
The lively Sharp has wasted no time in reminding the BFNL – opposition defenders in particular – just what an excitement machine he is with a stunning return from a knee reconstruction.
Five rounds into the season Sharp holds a 10-goal buffer at the top of the race for the BFNL’s Ron Best Medal with his tally of 39.
The 25-year-old’s exploits on the football field this year have caught both himself and the Storm by surprise given he initially wasn’t expected to be part of the Strathfieldsaye team early in the season while still on the comeback trail.
Earlier this week marked one year since Sharp’s surgery after he tore the ACL in his left knee during the Storm’s round three loss to Golden Square in 2016 – the match in which Strathfieldsaye’s 39-game winning streak came to an end.
“It has been a long haul getting back to playing footy again… it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do,” Sharp said this week.
“Benny Lester at our club has done his knee twice. If I had done two I don’t know if I’d be strong enough to go through it again because it’s not just footy, it affects your life in general.
“For the first three to six months simple things like jogging across the road to beat traffic or walking up stairs is hard, so it goes well beyond footy in the impact it has.
“Along the way you speak with people who have done their knees before and they pass on a bit of advice and what worked well for them.
“That was really good for me to talk to a lot of people and being able to take on something from everyone was probably the reason I’ve been able to get back so quickly.”
But of all the bits of advice from those who have been in the same position as he has, the words that had the most profound impact on Sharp were from his surgeon, Feller, earlier this year.
“I went back to Julian at nine months and thought I had damaged my knee again after getting a bump at training,” Sharp said.
“My knee blew up and I thought I had done something serious to it again and I explained to Julian what had happened and my concerns.
“He scanned it and said, ‘mate, trust what I have done, trust yourself and get back out there and go flat out’.
“I went back to training that night and went flat out, I did the same again the next week and it was fine.
“It was more of a confidence thing than anything else and once I got my confidence back, I was right to go.”
Initially, Sharp wasn’t expecting to play his first game of the season until last week, but those plans were quickly shelved back in March once he had been back to see Feller.
“It was after I saw Julian again and he said just go for it where I thought, ‘well, if it’s going to go again, it’s going to go’, so I may as well have a red-hot crack at it now,” Sharp said.
Sharp’s comeback started in a reserves practice match against Rochester in what was the perfect confidence booster – a bag of 10 goals.
“It was good to just get back out there, have fun again and forget about the knee,” said Sharp, who is the all-time leading goalkicker at Strathfieldsaye with 372.
“You can train with your mates as much as you like, but nothing beats getting out and kicking a goal or doing something good in a game to get your confidence up.”
A week later in the seniors he kicked four goals against Montmorency, and while there was no pressure from the club to play round one, there was no holding Sharp back from taking on reigning premier Sandhurst in the Storm’s season-opener.
He slotted four goals first-up against the Dragons – he could have bagged another six had his kicking boots been on – then followed it up with another four against Golden Square in round two, just one year shy of playing the same opponent at the same venue where he had blown his knee out.
Getting through the first two games unscathed, Sharp has since stepped it up another notch with 31 goals in his past three matches – 10 against Eaglehawk, seven against Gisborne and a club record 14 against Maryborough last week.
“Darryl (Wilson, coach) mentioned about having a rest last week, but my thoughts are I’ve had 12 months out of the game, if I have a rest this week and I do my knee again next week, what’s the point in resting,” Sharp said.
“I’m just playing as much footy as I can because you never know what’s around the corner.
“When you do a knee it certainly wakes you up that you can’t take footy for granted.”
Storm coach Darryl Wilson says Sharp’s form over the first five games of the season has defied all expectations.
So dominant has Sharp been inside 50, the next Storm player behind his 39 goals is captain Shannon Geary with a distant nine.
“We weren’t expecting him to be available until mid-year, maybe a little bit earlier. To be able to come back from what he has both mentally and physically, he has done an exceptional job,” Wilson said.
“He’s obviously a talent-and-a-half and it has been a fantastic effort to get back to playing the type of footy he is given it’s only just gone a year since he had the surgery.”
Sharp is a dual premiership player with the Storm and has been with the club since it joined the BFNL in 2009.
He’s the only player in the club’s nine-season history to kick a double-figure bag of goals, having done it four times.