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Demons' days: from go to doze

Lynden Dunn in the gym. Click for more photos

Melbourne Football Club Training

Age photographer Sebastian Costanzo is granted unlimited access to capture a day in the life of Melbourne's pre-season. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo

IT'S three o'clock in the afternoon, and Melbourne is asleep on the job. To be fair, though, it's part of the job. The Demons are two-thirds of their way through “Three Block Wednesday”, the most demanding, draining day of each week. They've trained for a couple of hours, they've wrestled on the gym floor and now it's time to recoup some energy before part three: a strength circuit and the watt bike session everyone has been dreading. The 45-minute recovery nap is new to Melbourne's pre-season program, and optional. It's not for everyone, but 23 players are curled inside sleeping bags on the locker-room floor when the lights are flicked off and the door locked shut.

It's not surprising.

Wednesday, 8.45am

Discipline: Mark Neeld aims to make the Demons difficult to play against.

Discipline: Mark Neeld aims to make the Demons difficult to play against. Photo: Ken Irwin

Melbourne's day is well underway when the players start making their way through the long AAMI Park corridor to a team meeting. The players are ready for training and a bunch have been in the gym for an extra touch session with development coaches Paul Satterley and Andy Nichol. Nichol flings tennis balls, soccer balls and footballs at the players, testing their reflexes, and Satterley has them handball at a moment's notice through the hula hoops he has attached to some netting: “one, four, Jonesey, blue, five .?.?.” he calls, as players fire balls towards the hoops, coloured, numbered and with, in one case, a photo of midfielder Nathan Jones attached. Every player does touch sessions with their line group throughout the week, but extra sessions are available: this morning, defender Troy Davis gets special mention for improving his scores. On the other side of the gym, Shannon Byrnes is one of a handful of players warming his legs up on a stationery bike. Byrnes is 28, but that hasn't made adapting to a new team and its way of doing things any easier. The lingo in particular, he says, takes time to learn.

Melbourne has three footy sessions a week, each with a different focus: defence, offence, stoppages and game sense. It means that, after a brief introduction by coach Mark Neeld, it's defensive coach Jade Rawlings' turn to run through today's drills – sniper run, black hole, grid game and others – by waving a green laser pointer at a couple of graphics and some vision from Monday's session. Today's session is one the coaches spent more than 90 minutes on Tuesday afternoon planning and Rawlings keeps the graphics to a minimum, knowing it's the vision that helps the players really see things, and asks questions about decisions that were made or made badly.

There's Sam Blease's choice to lunge at a player, who slipped his tackle on the boundary line and got away; some subtle sideways movement from Rohan Bail, which allowed him to cover two defenders at once and force play across goal. “We can't afford to miss tackles and we can't afford to get stepped,” forwards coach Leigh Brown chips in. “Get up in their face, and get up in their face big.”

The last thing announced is today's All-Star defensive team, as chosen by Rawlings. They'll participate in the final drill, in which they'll be outnumbered but still asked to try to force turnovers. At this time of year, when there is no external opposition, competition must come from within and it's become an honour to make the list. Jeremy Howe, Neville Jetta, Jones, Bail and Byrnes are among those picked for today's team.

9.30am

Training is at Gosch's paddock, two minutes' walk down Swan Street. It's cold and, before too long, wet. Chris Dawes jogs the boundary line, looking after a minor calf injury. Another group of players walks some slow laps before heading inside for some rehab work and among them is Jimmy Toumpas, Melbourne's first choice two weeks ago. Conditioning coach Dave Misson is still getting to know the new players – what they can do, how hard they can be pushed – and Toumpas' calves are a bit sore after training on Monday. “I got so excited. I was like, 'Yes! I'm out of rehab!' said the 18-year-old, who has moved in with the Viney family. “Two days later and I'm straight back in.”

The session runs smoothly, and Rawlings feels as though it's a good one, sharper than Monday's, which was held after a short break. “Give them four days off, and the first session back is always a bit flat,” he said. “They were good today.” All the coaches have a role to play, and development coaches Nichols and Aaron Greaves carry iPads, using an app to film sections of play up close and show it to the players involved immediately. The session is filmed by high definition cameras attached to a post behind the goals, able to be downloaded and coded straight away by the club's IT staff. By the afternoon, players will be able to call up their own edits.

The session finishes with some running, but not as much as the group would have this time last year. Last pre-season it took Misson five or six weeks to get the players where they needed to be aerobically; this time they came back running far better times.

Still, the players need to be challenged to do the required work. They all wear GPS units through the session, with their numbers fed live into a laptop on the side of the ground. They all know what they need to rack up: zone five and six efforts, where they sprint at 25 km/h or faster. “The gains you've made with your running has now got to translate into how you train,” Misson tells them. “But don't think that it's naturally going to translate into the way you train and the way you play. You've got to take it upon yourself to make sure you're doing the running you need to do within the drills.”

12.30pm

Lunch is laid out for the players and they drop by before or after a dip in the plunge pools for some meat, salad and wraps. This is the one time of day when they're not being watched – if there is one thing that catches your eye about their daily life it's that almost every single thing they do is measured, assessed and ranked against not only their teammates, but AFL benchmarks. There are daily weigh-in and hydration tests, and regular skinfold tests. Every training session is filmed and reviewed as if it was a game. Their GPS numbers are written on the whiteboard for everyone else to see and they get scored for the touch sessions. Every line coach has a “depth chart” and the players know that if they're not in the top five or six, they wouldn't be getting a game. Twice a week, Neeld meets with the coaches, welfare manager Craig Lees, Misson and others, and every player's progress is individually assessed. “You can't get away with anything,” says James Sellar. “If you have a day off, everyone's going to know you've had a day off. It all shows up.”

1.30pm

As Neeld puts it, players run half-marathons at high intensity once every seven days during the season, while their bodies are being smashed. He wants his young group to get better used to body contact, as safely as possible, hence the introduction of some basic wrestling training. “This is the fun part of the day,” says Tom McDonald, paired up with Jake Spencer. Coach Ed Bavelock winds his way through the players, as Sellar takes on Cam Pedersen, Sam Blease wrestles James Strauss and Viney tries to strangle Byrnes. There's plenty of sweat and one, brief pause for a laugh, as David Rodan treats one exercise as a chance to show off his breakdancing skills.

Most of the coaches drop by for a look. It's important for the players, says Rawlings, to feel like they're always watching, always interested and accessible. But they spend much of their afternoon in another meeting run by director of sports performance Neil Craig. Every drill is reviewed at length: which players ran hard, who didn't, how many possessions were racked up in the grid game as well as how many turnovers. That number doesn't necessarily worry Neeld. “The next defensive day we have, hit them with that,” he says. “Our ability to defend needs to improve. A lot of the unforced errors were technically unforced, but forced because they knew what was coming.”

Rawlings loved the standard of tackling, but was slightly frustrated that the other coaches weren't exactly where he needed them to be. “I should have organised that a bit better,” he says. “That's my bad.” There's some talk about how Jones was encouraged to use his voice with more authority, and James Magner's heavy tackle on draftee Dean Terlich comes up. “At the moment the senior boys are seeing a chance to get some of the boys who are struggling in training or in the running and as much as we think that's OK we can't have players doing their AC joint,” says Neeld. “I enjoyed Jimmy's tackle on Dean Terlich like everyone else but I also enjoyed the fact he was able to get up without a broken arm.”

4.30pm

The long day finishes back in the gym with one, last 90-minute session: a strength and endurance circuit, a half-hour for the players to work on any weaknesses in their bodies, be it their back, hamstrings or something else. The last part is on the dreaded watt bikes, where once again there is no hiding, with the players' efforts right there on a screen in front of them. Assistant coach Brian Royal stands by Blease's side, urging him on, rookie Tom Couch finishes with a tired smile having ridden well, and Nichol joins in. “It's the hardest thing we do,” says McDonald, “but the best thing, because you can see exactly what you're doing while you're doing it.” That the pre-season pauses for no one is summed up by Jack Trengove, who watches on during the bike session, back from having scans done on the left foot he knows is sore, but hopes is not badly injured. He gets the bad news a couple of hours later: he has the early signs of a stress fracture and will need to wear a moon boot for the next six weeks.

Byrnes looks ready to sleep by the time he gets off his bike, and is looking forward to eating – a lot – before sleeping and getting to the airport early for Melbourne's flight to Darwin and an eight-day training camp. He's still settling in. But he feels like he's settling into something good. “I honestly came here thinking, it's a bottom club, is it going to be a bit slack and lazy?” he said. “But I reckon they're on edge. They're still learning and the skill and the know-how is still coming, but I honestly feel like they're going in the right direction. Those are my initial thoughts. You can't have this many blokes wanting to go well, wanting to go really well, and nothing come out of it.”

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Round 1
Thu, 02 AprTimes shown AEDT
CAR 78 vs RIC 105 Report Stats
Sat, 04 AprTimes shown AEDT
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SYD 72 vs ESS 60 Stats
BRI 74 vs COL 86 Stats
WBU 97 vs WCE 87 Stats
Sun, 05 AprTimes shown AEST
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ADE 140 vs NTH 63 Stats
FRE 75 vs PTA 68 Stats
Mon, 06 AprTimes shown AEST
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Round 2
Fri, 10 AprTimes shown AEST
WCE 131 vs CAR 62 Stats
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GWS 101 vs MEL 56 Stats
COL 63 vs ADE 90 Report Stats
GCF 76 vs STK 104 Stats
PTA 44 vs SYD 92 Stats
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GEE 60 vs FRE 104 Stats
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Round 3
Fri, 17 AprTimes shown AEST
COL 140 vs STK 66 Stats
Sat, 18 AprTimes shown AEST
CAR 84 vs ESS 105 Stats
ADE 80 vs MEL 55 Stats
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NTH 105 vs PTA 113 Stats
BRI 58 vs RIC 137 Stats
Sun, 19 AprTimes shown AEST
HAW 127 vs WBU 57 Stats
GEE 105 vs GCF 96 Stats
WCE 81 vs FRE 111 Stats
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Round 4
Fri, 24 AprTimes shown AEST
RIC 51 vs MEL 83 Stats
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ESS 49 vs COL 69 Report Stats
GWS 119 vs GCF 53 Stats
PTA 99 vs HAW 91 Stats
FRE 74 vs SYD 60 Stats
Sun, 26 AprTimes shown AEST
BRI 65 vs WCE 118 Stats
GEE 67 vs NTH 83 Stats
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Round 5
Fri, 01 MayTimes shown AEST
CAR 45 vs COL 120 Stats
Sat, 02 MayTimes shown AEST
RIC 76 vs GEE 85 Stats
SYD 73 vs WBU 77 Stats
GCF 118 vs BRI 54 Stats
NTH 70 vs HAW 130 Stats
WCE 120 vs GWS 33 Stats
Sun, 03 MayTimes shown AEST
MEL 50 vs FRE 118 Stats
STK 80 vs ESS 82 Stats
ADE 91 vs PTA 115 Stats
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Round 6
Fri, 08 MayTimes shown AEST
COL 59 vs GEE 100 Stats
Sat, 09 MayTimes shown AEST
NTH 109 vs RIC 74 Stats
WBU 87 vs STK 94 Stats
GWS 108 vs HAW 98 Stats
GCF 78 vs ADE 119 Stats
MEL 50 vs SYD 88 Stats
FRE 80 vs ESS 52 Stats
Sun, 10 MayTimes shown AEST
CAR 75 vs BRI 84 Report Stats
PTA 68 vs WCE 78 Stats
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Round 7
Fri, 15 MayTimes shown AEST
ESS 82 vs NTH 93 Stats
Sat, 16 MayTimes shown AEST
ADE 119 vs STK 73 Stats
HAW 155 vs MEL 50 Stats
CAR 57 vs GWS 135 Stats
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WCE 135 vs GCF 43 Stats
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WBU 88 vs FRE 101 Stats
RIC 105 vs COL 100 Report Stats
BRI 102 vs PTA 65 Report Stats
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Round 8
Fri, 22 MayTimes shown AEST
GEE 140 vs CAR 63 Report Stats
Sat, 23 MayTimes shown AEST
STK 78 vs WCE 131 Report Stats
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GCF 63 vs COL 132 Report Stats
HAW 69 vs SYD 73 Report Stats
FRE 115 vs NTH 42 Report Stats
Sun, 24 MayTimes shown AEST
ESS 136 vs BRI 78 Report Stats
MEL 103 vs WBU 64 Report Stats
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Round 9
Fri, 29 MayTimes shown AEST
SYD vs CAR 19:50SCG
Sat, 30 MayTimes shown AEST
HAW vs GCF 13:45AS
MEL vs PTA 14:10TIO Traeger Park
WBU vs GWS 16:35ES
RIC vs ESS 19:20MCG
ADE vs FRE 19:40Adelaide Oval
Sun, 31 MayTimes shown AEST
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COL vs NTH 15:20MCG
WCE vs GEE 16:40Domain Stadium
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Round 10
Fri, 05 JunTimes shown AEST
FRE vs RIC 20:10Domain Stadium
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CAR vs ADE 13:40MCG
GCF vs SYD 16:35MS
ESS vs GEE 19:20ES
PTA vs WBU 19:40Adelaide Oval
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GWS vs BRI 13:10Spotless Stadium
NTH vs WCE 15:20BA
STK vs HAW 16:40ES
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MEL vs COL 15:20MCG
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Round 11
Fri, 12 JunTimes shown AEST
PTA vs GEE 19:50Adelaide Oval
Sat, 13 JunTimes shown AEST
GCF vs FRE 13:40MS
WCE vs ESS 16:35Domain Stadium
NTH vs SYD 19:20ES
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Round 12
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ADE vs HAW 19:50Adelaide Oval
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Round 13
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Round 14
Thu, 02 JulTimes shown AEST
SYD vs PTA 19:20SCG
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GCF vs NTH 16:35MS
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Round 15
Thu, 09 JulTimes shown AEST
PTA vs COL 19:50Adelaide Oval
Fri, 10 JulTimes shown AEST
RIC vs CAR 19:50MCG
Sat, 11 JulTimes shown AEST
ESS vs MEL 13:40MCG
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NTH vs GEE 19:20ES
WCE vs ADE 19:40Domain Stadium
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Round 16
Fri, 17 JulTimes shown AEST
NTH vs ESS 19:50ES
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GCF vs GWS 14:10MS
COL vs WCE 16:35ES
SYD vs HAW 19:20ANZ
FRE vs CAR 19:40Domain Stadium
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PTA vs ADE 15:20Adelaide Oval
STK vs RIC 16:40ES
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Round 17
Fri, 24 JulTimes shown AEST
CAR vs HAW 19:50ES
Sat, 25 JulTimes shown AEST
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ADE vs GCF 14:10Adelaide Oval
RIC vs FRE 16:35MCG
ESS vs PTA 19:20ES
BRI vs NTH 19:20G
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Round 18
Fri, 31 JulTimes shown AEST
HAW vs RIC 19:50MCG
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COL vs MEL 14:10MCG
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CAR vs NTH 19:20ES
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ESS vs WBU 15:20ES
FRE vs GWS 16:40Domain Stadium
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Round 19
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ADE vs RIC 19:50Adelaide Oval
Sat, 08 AugTimes shown AEST
COL vs CAR 13:45MCG
WBU vs PTA 14:10ES
BRI vs GCF 16:35G
GEE vs SYD 19:20SS
WCE vs HAW 19:40Domain Stadium
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GWS vs ESS 15:20Spotless Stadium
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Round 20
Fri, 14 AugTimes shown AEST
SYD vs COL 19:50SCG
Sat, 15 AugTimes shown AEST
ESS vs ADE 13:45ES
NTH vs STK 14:10BA
PTA vs GWS 16:35Adelaide Oval
GEE vs HAW 19:20MCG
BRI vs CAR 19:20G
Sun, 16 AugTimes shown AEST
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WBU vs MEL 15:20ES
FRE vs WCE 16:40Domain Stadium
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Round 21
Fri, 21 AugTimes shown AEST
HAW vs PTA 19:50ES
Sat, 22 AugTimes shown AEST
COL vs RIC 13:45MCG
GWS vs SYD 14:10Spotless Stadium
GCF vs ESS 16:35MS
STK vs GEE 19:20ES
ADE vs BRI 19:40Adelaide Oval
Sun, 23 AugTimes shown AEST
NTH vs FRE 13:10ES
CAR vs MEL 15:20MCG
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Round 22
Fri, 28 AugTimes shown AEST
GEE vs COL 19:50MCG
Sat, 29 AugTimes shown AEST
GWS vs CAR 13:45Spotless Stadium
HAW vs BRI 14:10AS
NTH vs WBU 16:35ES
ESS vs RIC 19:20MCG
GCF vs PTA 19:20MS
Sun, 30 AugTimes shown AEST
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STK vs SYD 15:20ES
FRE vs MEL 16:40Domain Stadium
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Round 23
Fri, 04 SepTimes shown AEST
COL vs ESS 00:00MCG
RIC vs NTH 00:00ES
HAW vs CAR 00:00MCG
GEE vs ADE 00:00SS
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MEL vs GWS 00:00ES
BRI vs WBU 00:00G
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WCE vs STK 02:00Domain Stadium
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AFL 2015
Overall standings
Team P W L D % Pts
Fremantle 8 8 0 0 155.29 32
West Coast Eagles 8 6 2 0 158.17 24
Sydney Swans 8 6 2 0 127.36 24
GWS Giants 8 6 2 0 118.87 24
Collingwood 8 5 3 0 129.90 20
Adelaide Crows 8 5 3 0 116.32 20
Hawthorn 8 4 4 0 145.81 16
Richmond 8 4 4 0 107.64 16
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