Bouncing back: Luke Ball works on his recovery. Photo: Paul Rovere
IF COLLINGWOOD supporters are quietly hoping Luke Ball will be the Lenny Hayes of 2013, then reports of his progress could not be more encouraging.
Ball has quietly worked his way through a faultless recovery from his knee reconstruction and appears likely to complete most, if not all, of the pre-season in preparation for an 11th AFL season.
The 28-year-old has attacked his rehabilitation buoyed by the return of former teammate Hayes, who capped off a stunning comeback from his own long-term knee injury by winning St Kilda's best and fairest this year.
Hayes was dubbed the recruit of the year in 2012, given he missed virtually all of 2011 after rupturing an anterior cruciate ligament in round two of that year.
Ball, who has re-signed with the Magpies for another two seasons, injured his knee in round three, so he will be in the same situation as Hayes, having had a traditional reconstruction and spent a full season on the sidelines.
Had this season dragged on for another month, Ball might have been an outside chance to play, such has been his progress.
When Collingwood returns to pre-season training soon, Ball is expected to be there with the rest of his teammates and also at the club's high-altitude training camp in Utah.
The Pies hope a strong pre-season will allow its premiership hero to hit the ground running in the lead-up to a much-anticipated return in round one.
''He's coming along really well,'' Magpies football director Geoff Walsh said yesterday.
''He wasn't all that far away from being ready at the end of the season. By the time we resume training, he'll be virtually joining in nearly full training.''
The importance of Ball's absence this year was somewhat under-played, because his replacement in the midfield, Dayne Beams, went on to have a breakout season in which he won a first Copeland Trophy as best and fairest, and All-Australian selection.
But it was evident during the Magpies' finals campaign how valuable Ball's experience and hardness at stoppages and around goal would have been to the Magpies.
The thought that the Magpies can now throw Ball back into the midfield alongside Beams and fellow stars Scott Pendlebury and Dane Swan is a tantalising one for Magpie fans.
The club has also moved to strengthen its on-ball division by securing Quinten Lynch as a back-up ruckman to Darren Jolly.
Lachlan Keeffe is the other Collingwood player battling back from a torn ACL. The key-position youngster played the first nine games of the season, but his rehabilitation has gone well and medical staff have been pleased with his progress.
''He would be somewhere towards the back end of the pre-season, I would think, in terms of him being up and going in full training,'' Walsh said.
''It's too far away and there's too much water to go under the bridge before we can work out when he would start playing again.''
Meanwhile, Sydney speedster Gary Rohan has revealed he will start running next month and believes he is on track to reach peak fitness by the start of next season.
Rohan's season was wiped out when he broke his leg in a collision with North Melbourne's Lindsay Thomas in round four.
The injury reduced him to a spectator on grand final day. Rohan told the AFL website that missing out on being a part of Sydney's premiership this year would drive him next season. ''[I'm] quite emotional that I missed out, but so excited I'm going to be in the same team next year and I'm more determined to come back,'' he said.