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Stringer finally has a leg to stand on

Building for the future: Jake Stringer uses some weights as he prepares for the AFL draft.

Building for the future: Jake Stringer uses some weights as he prepares for the AFL draft. Photo: Jim Aidersey/Bendigo Advertiser

AFL hopeful Jake Stringer has overcome an awful injury.

JAKE Stringer doesn't even start to explain any more. Whenever someone asks why he missed a whole year of football he simply reaches for his phone and scrolls through his photo roll until he reaches it.

People say, 'What happened to your leg? How bad did it look? What was it like?' I just hand the phone over and say, 'Have a look for yourself'. They take one look and then it's, 'Oh, come on, I didn't need to see that'. 

The picture is from his local paper, and in it you can see Stringer being tackled while playing for the Bendigo Pioneers at the start of last year. His right foot is kicking the back of his left leg and his broken shin bone is about to break through the skin. ''He's done well, the photographer,'' says Stringer, who has become used not only to the question but the inevitable response.

Painful day: Stringer breaks his leg as he is tackled by Rebel Jake Neade.

Painful day: Stringer breaks his leg as he is tackled by Rebel Jake Neade. Photo: Getty Images

''People say, 'What happened to your leg? How bad did it look? What was it like?' I just hand the phone over and say, 'Have a look for yourself'. They take one look and then it's, 'Oh, come on, I didn't need to see that'.''

It's almost two full seasons since the day in Ballarat when the tibia and fibula in Stringer's leg snapped. He can remember the sound, the pain, the way people went white when they looked at him. ''Old Ghosty here,'' he says, looking across at his father, John.

He can remember the physios holding his leg together, too scared to move in case they made him scream even more. The 90 minutes it took the ambulance to arrive, and the instant understanding that he wouldn't be playing footy again for a while. If the memories start feeling vague, he need only glance down at the scars or fetch the X-rays from his wardrobe, and there they are again. Stringer sums up the afternoon. ''It was crook.''

The injury wiped out Stringer's 2011 season before it had even really started, teaching him how to recover from serious surgery, how to get around on crutches, how to ask for help getting out of bed in the middle of the night when he needed to get to the toilet, what it felt like to be lapped by elderly neighbours walking laps of the reservoir near his home. It made him miss out on things, slow down, and just when he thought it was dealt with he found himself back in hospital, faced with doing everything all over again.

Stringer had a long metal rod removed from his leg in February, as well as three screws. He was told he would walk out of hospital later the same day, but when he came to he looked down and realised his leg was a mess again, that he wouldn't be going anywhere any time soon.

''I was stooged,'' he grumbles, recalling another two weeks on crutches, another two weeks of depending on other people, an unexpected and almost total restart.

When recruiters have visited, asking Stringer about his limp, his running gait, and whether he'll be able to play full-time in the midfield again, his mother Donna longs to show them a photo from the hospital bed less than six months ago. Really, Stringer has overcome two serious injuries in the past two years. ''They talk about what he hasn't done,'' Donna said, ''and not what he has.''

Stringer stuck to his original plan: to be up and going as soon as his season this year started. He played for the AIS-AFL Academy in a game against Box Hill, less than five weeks after his surgery, because it was the game he had missed out on almost 12 months earlier. He was voted the academy's best player in its game against a European side two weeks later, and kicked seven goals for Bendigo in his first match back from the overseas trip, but none of it happened easily.

''I've had to teach myself everything again, pretty much,'' he said. ''Where to run to, how to get a kick, how to read the ball. I hadn't had to think about that sort of stuff before.''

He had to deal with a bit more pain, too, getting a knock to the leg during the under-18 championships that hurt, a lot. He took some advice after that, and started to wear a shin guard. ''It's made the biggest difference. It made me feel like myself again,'' Stringer said. ''I started to stick my head in and if I got hit I'd just think, 'Hah! Shin guard'!''

He didn't have the season he wanted to have. It wasn't until he played three late games for Bendigo's VFL side that he felt motivated, urgent and desperate to please. There was only one way to win his new teammates over in those games, and that was to tackle, chase and defend. He knew people wanted him to be resting, training up, getting ready for the draft, making sure his stocks didn't drop. ''We talked about that a lot,'' said John.

''We went through it and talked about whether he'd be better off just training, just getting fit for the draft, but that didn't appeal to Jake at all.''

In fact, Stringer didn't care whether he became a top-five pick, a top-10 pick or fell further than that. He didn't care if clubs saw him as simply a marking forward, or whether they believed him when he told them he would be a midfielder. All he wanted to do was play football again, without thinking about the consequences.

It means that, wherever this week's draft takes him, his season was a success. ''It was hard, because I've been thinking about the draft for a long time. It's been talked about since I was 15 and it feels like I've been waiting ages for it.

''This year I just thought, 'OK, I don't care. I don't care who's watching and I don't care what they think, because I just want to play'.

''People kept saying to me, 'What are you doing? You're limping, you can't walk properly, you can't run'. And all I could say was, 'Dude, I couldn't give a shit, I missed out on a whole year'. ''I know I'm fine. I know I'll be able to go to a club and do all the training and be able to play next year. I didn't even think about not playing. No way was I missing any more footy.''

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2014 Home and Away

Round 1
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COL 46 vs FRE 116 Report Stats
Sat, 15 MarTimes shown AEDT
GWS 99 vs SYD 67 Report Report Stats
GCF 87 vs RIC 69 Report Stats
Sun, 16 MarTimes shown AEDT
CAR 87 vs PTA 120 Report Stats
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GEE 119 vs ADE 81 Report Stats
Fri, 21 MarTimes shown AEDT
NTH 60 vs ESS 99 Report Stats
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HAW 139 vs BRI 91 Report Stats
STK 68 vs MEL 51 Report Stats
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WCE 134 vs WBU 69 Report Stats
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Round 2
Thu, 27 MarTimes shown AEDT
RIC 98 vs CAR 86 Report Stats
Fri, 28 MarTimes shown AEDT
ESS 86 vs HAW 90 Report Stats
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STK 95 vs GWS 88 Stats
PTA 127 vs ADE 73 Report Stats
FRE 87 vs GCF 39 Report Stats
SYD 69 vs COL 89 Report Stats
Sun, 30 MarTimes shown AEDT
BRI 68 vs GEE 93 Stats
MEL 30 vs WCE 123 Report Stats
WBU 54 vs NTH 83 Report Stats
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Round 3
Fri, 04 AprTimes shown AEDT
HAW 137 vs FRE 79 Report Stats
Sat, 05 AprTimes shown AEDT
WBU 100 vs RIC 98 Report Stats
ADE 71 vs SYD 134 Report Stats
GCF 114 vs BRI 61 Stats
WCE 83 vs STK 58 Report Stats
COL 76 vs GEE 87 Report Stats
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GWS 79 vs MEL 47 Report Stats
NTH 97 vs PTA 90 Report Stats
ESS 138 vs CAR 57 Report Stats
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Round 4
Fri, 11 AprTimes shown AEST
RIC 72 vs COL 110 Report Stats
Sat, 12 AprTimes shown AEST
CAR 58 vs MEL 81 Report Stats
PTA 159 vs BRI 46 Report Stats
GWS 83 vs WBU 110 Report Stats
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GCF 49 vs HAW 148 Report Stats
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SYD 48 vs NTH 91 Report Stats
STK 50 vs ADE 136 Report Stats
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Round 5
Thu, 17 AprTimes shown AEST
BRI 63 vs RIC 106 Report Stats
Sat, 19 AprTimes shown AEST
COL 93 vs NTH 58 Report Stats
SYD 92 vs FRE 75 Report Stats
WCE 56 vs PTA 70 Report Stats
ESS 65 vs STK 81 Report Stats
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ADE 137 vs GWS 72 Report Stats
MEL 78 vs GCF 86 Report Stats
WBU 91 vs CAR 119 Report Stats
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GEE 106 vs HAW 87 Report Stats
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Round 6
Fri, 25 AprTimes shown AEST
COL 83 vs ESS 60 Report Stats
STK 79 vs BRI 82 Report Stats
FRE 61 vs NTH 74 Report Stats
Sat, 26 AprTimes shown AEST
GCF 134 vs GWS 94 Report Stats
CAR 92 vs WCE 89 Report Stats
MEL 38 vs SYD 69 Report Stats
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WBU 83 vs ADE 92 Report Stats
RIC 52 vs HAW 118 Report Stats
PTA 107 vs GEE 67 Report Stats
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Round 7
Fri, 02 MayTimes shown AEST
CAR 70 vs COL 104 Report Stats
Sat, 03 MayTimes shown AEST
HAW 175 vs STK 30 Report Stats
GWS 97 vs PTA 132 Report Stats
ADE 67 vs MEL 70 Report Stats
BRI 44 vs SYD 123 Stats
ESS 73 vs WBU 65 Report Stats
Sun, 04 MayTimes shown AEST
NTH 77 vs GCF 120 Report Stats
GEE 81 vs RIC 76 Report Stats
WCE 54 vs FRE 73 Report Stats
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Round 8
Fri, 09 MayTimes shown AEST
SYD 107 vs HAW 88 Report Stats
Sat, 10 MayTimes shown AEST
PTA 94 vs FRE 76 Report Stats
BRI 57 vs ESS 65 Report Stats
MEL 83 vs WBU 99 Report Stats
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WCE 188 vs GWS 77 Report Stats
Mon, 12 MayTimes shown AEST
STK 69 vs CAR 101 Report Stats
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Round 9
Thu, 15 MayTimes shown AEST
ADE 76 vs COL 55 Report Stats
Fri, 16 MayTimes shown AEST
ESS 64 vs SYD 114 Report Stats
Sat, 17 MayTimes shown AEST
RIC 74 vs MEL 91 Report Stats
NTH 125 vs BRI 38 Report Stats
FRE 96 vs GEE 64 Report Stats
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STK 87 vs GCF 125 Report Stats
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Round 10
Fri, 23 MayTimes shown AEST
GEE 111 vs NTH 91 Report Stats
Sat, 24 MayTimes shown AEST
GWS 41 vs RIC 154 Report Stats
COL 109 vs WCE 101 Report Stats
PTA 100 vs HAW 86 Report Stats
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GCF 119 vs WBU 74 Report Stats
CAR 81 vs ADE 76 Report Stats
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Round 11
Thu, 29 MayTimes shown AEST
SYD 148 vs GEE 38 Report Stats
Fri, 30 MayTimes shown AEST
STK 54 vs COL 140 Report Stats
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MEL 75 vs PTA 95 Report Stats
BRI 98 vs CAR 91 Report Stats
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WBU 51 vs FRE 89 Report Stats
HAW 94 vs GWS 87 Report Stats
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Round 12
Fri, 06 JunTimes shown AEST
GEE 107 vs CAR 102 Report Stats
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HAW 123 vs WCE 79 Report Stats
PTA 129 vs STK 59 Report Stats
WBU 87 vs BRI 95 Report Stats
GWS 66 vs ESS 81 Report Stats
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GCF 74 vs SYD 109 Report Stats
FRE 90 vs ADE 50 Report Stats
NTH 116 vs RIC 88 Report Stats
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MEL 28 vs COL 61 Report Stats
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Round 13
Fri, 13 JunTimes shown AEST
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RIC 85 vs FRE 105 Report Stats
SYD 98 vs PTA 94 Report Stats
WCE 103 vs GCF 100 Report Stats
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COL 98 vs WBU 106 Report Stats
ESS 77 vs MEL 78 Report Stats
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Round 14
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PTA 128 vs WBU 56 Report Stats
HAW 115 vs COL 86 Report Stats
GCF 118 vs GEE 78 Report Stats
FRE 105 vs BRI 22 Report Stats
ESS 101 vs ADE 92 Report Stats
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GWS 100 vs CAR 92 Report Stats
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Round 15
Fri, 27 JunTimes shown AEST
GEE 89 vs ESS 80 Report Stats
Sat, 28 JunTimes shown AEST
HAW 116 vs GCF 63 Report Stats
STK 73 vs RIC 117 Report Stats
FRE 88 vs WCE 81 Report Stats
SYD 106 vs GWS 60 Stats
BRI 70 vs NTH 66 Report Stats
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ADE 99 vs PTA 76 Report Stats
COL 91 vs CAR 76 Report Stats
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Round 16
Fri, 04 JulTimes shown AEST
NTH 108 vs HAW 88 Report Stats
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RIC 79 vs BRI 54 Stats
GWS 72 vs ADE 140 Report Stats
GCF 80 vs COL 75 Report Stats
MEL 34 vs FRE 97 Report Stats
PTA 60 vs ESS 62 Report Stats
Sun, 06 JulTimes shown AEST
CAR 151 vs STK 66 Report Stats
WCE 51 vs SYD 79 Report Stats
GEE 69 vs WBU 56 Report Stats
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Round 17
Fri, 11 JulTimes shown AEST
ADE 92 vs HAW 104 Report Stats
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MEL 36 vs GEE 102 Report Stats
NTH 92 vs STK 33 Report Stats
WBU 94 vs GCF 66 Report Stats
BRI 64 vs WCE 76 Report Stats
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RIC 126 vs PTA 106 Report Stats
ESS 103 vs COL 39 Report Stats
FRE 136 vs GWS 60 Report Stats
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Round 18
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CAR 109 vs NTH 86 Report Stats
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STK 118 vs FRE 60 Report Stats
GWS 87 vs GEE 94 Report Stats
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PTA 72 vs MEL 69 Report Stats
WBU 94 vs ESS 101 Report Stats
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HAW 104 vs SYD 94 Report Stats
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Round 19
Thu, 31 JulTimes shown AEST
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SYD 79 vs ESS 57 Report Stats
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NTH 79 vs GEE 111 Report Stats
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COL 76 vs PTA 70 Report Stats
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Round 20
Fri, 08 AugTimes shown AEST
RIC 95 vs ESS 77 Report Stats
Sat, 09 AugTimes shown AEST
GWS 51 vs NTH 126 Report Stats
CAR 97 vs GCF 58 Report Stats
HAW 115 vs MEL 65 Report Stats
PTA 58 vs SYD 84 Report Stats
GEE 81 vs FRE 79 Report Stats
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BRI 63 vs ADE 168 Report Stats
STK 99 vs WBU 122 Report Stats
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Round 21
Fri, 15 AugTimes shown AEST
CAR 76 vs GEE 82 Report Stats
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GCF 47 vs PTA 56 Report Stats
ESS 77 vs WCE 74 Report Stats
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NTH 111 vs WBU 61 Report Stats
MEL 34 vs GWS 98 Report Stats
FRE 110 vs HAW 91 Report Stats
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Round 22
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PTA 140 vs CAR 37 Report Stats
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NTH 101 vs ADE 94 Report Stats
ESS 108 vs GCF 89 Report Stats
GWS 67 vs COL 75 Report Stats
WCE 119 vs MEL 53 Report Stats
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BRI 48 vs FRE 106 Report Stats
WBU 67 vs SYD 130 Report Stats
RIC 98 vs STK 72 Report Stats
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Round 23
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COL 56 vs HAW 121 Stats
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CAR 90 vs ESS 90 Stats
FRE 105 vs PTA 97 Stats
SYD 65 vs RIC 68 Stats
NTH 123 vs MEL 93 Stats
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ADE 141 vs STK 62 Stats
WBU 109 vs GWS 115 Stats
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Fri, 05 SepTimes shown AEST
HAW 104 vs GEE 68 Report Stats
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PTA 132 vs RIC 75 Report Stats
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GEE 92 vs NTH 98 Stats
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AFL Finals Round 4
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Sydney Swans 22 17 5 0 142.88 68
Hawthorn 22 17 5 0 140.78 68
Geelong Cats 22 17 5 0 113.77 68
Fremantle 22 16 6 0 130.40 64
Port Adelaide 22 14 8 0 129.92 56
North Melbourne 22 14 8 0 117.04 56
Essendon 22 12 9 1 106.34 50
Richmond 22 12 10 0 105.77 48
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