‘On your tummies…now one, two, three…stretch that torso; work your back.
‘Now roll onto your side, pull your leg across, from the hip. Feel those muscles working…good’. The instructor on the in-house yoga channel has been a blessing at the Royal Pines Resort these past few weeks.
Ordinarily, when on interstate assignments, it’s a reflex action to skip quickly past it on the way to Fox Footy or the racing channel. Hit that ‘channel up’ button on the remote and keep moving.
But on this trip, where it has been all about agility and flexibility, it has almost been compulsory to throw on a pair of tights, leg warmers and a fluoro headband to get the day moving. Turn off the sound and belt out Olivia’s ‘Let’s Get Physical.’
Okay, so that’s probably taking things a little far, but adroit thinking and supple bodies have been a pre-requisite for the West Coast contingent in the Gold Coast hub. Things that are hard-wired into the minds of our Australian football elite almost need to be untaught.
Take, for instance, the circumstances of a main training session and, in particular, match simulation. As that very description might suggest it’s a drill based on scenarios one might expect to encounter in a game.
It is designed to test skill in a game environment; to assess decision-making and execution. But in this crazy 2020 world it is match simulation without the match.
Today, the West Coast Eagles squad descended upon Metricon Stadium oval three. A practice ground on the eastern side of the major stadium at Carrara, to fine-tune their preparation for a game against Sydney. Three days ago, it was to fine tune for a game against Richmond, but with the elasticity of a contortionist, we moved the focus onto the Swans.
For those who have been absent since Sunday, the AFL was nimble itself and when the Queensland Government would not allow Victorian teams into the banana state without under-taking a 14 day quarantine, the round five fixture was flipped on its head.
Now AFL players living in Melbourne’s COVID-19 suburban hotspots have been told to find alternative accommodation within the day or they won’t be accepted into NSW.
We’re not the only ones required to play each ball on its merits.
Anyway, we digress, back to this match simulation session on the Gold Coast. This main training can no longer contain any degree of contact. So the ball moves from one end to the other, defenders feign to spoil, midfielders mimic a tackle, forwards pretend to push a defender in the chest to create the space for an uncontested mark. At least the uncontested mark is genuine.
It’s shadow boxing; like dancing with your sister – to borrow an oft-used term from 1985 Brownlow medallist Brad Hardie. The actions and reactions, ingrained since childhood, must be short-circuited.
Non-contact training was introduced this week in response to the serious resurgence of the pandemic in Melbourne. Protocols have been tightened.
Evidence of some of the other things that have gone out the window in this environment?
Players travel in minivans with a maximum of nine people in a vehicle. If they – or a member of staff – goes by car, there can only be two people in the car.
There are no shared towels. Each player must have his own.
Individual water bottles. Every bottle carries the number of a player, which is then set into a water carrier that is labelled according to the line that player belongs – forward, mid or back.
For sessions other than this one, a group of up to nine players, must be at least 20 metres from any other group. The ground is split into three zones, no one can cross into the neighbouring zone. It’s policed tighter than the WA border.
Training is a somewhat physical exercise for players, they still run and jump, kick and mark, albeit unopposed. But it is a cerebral challenge for coaches and fitness staff. Not to mention the compliance officer.