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The fitness folk

PETER Mulkearns is missing his first pre-season in more than 15 years, a football generation in which he's put men at three clubs through the pain that forges the bedrock of success. In the pre-Christmas sweat that falls on ovals, gym floors and far-away mountain trails, he knows the future can be told.

North Melbourne was in Utah last week, grinding out another of the high-altitude training camps that have become to an AFL club's preparation what leggings were to workouts post-Flashdance and Jane Fonda.

Mulkearns, who left the club at season's end, was in Europe, furthering his education at a strength and conditioning seminar, a sort of train spotter's gathering for fitness folk.

Where pre-season camps are concerned, he reckons Wayne Carey doesn't know what he missed (which in itself must be a rarity). He remembers the equivalent trip in his early mid-1990s years at Arden Street - two or three days in Lorne, running in the Otways and on the beach, bedding down in sleeping bags on the local basketball stadium floor.

When Mulkearns started at North, he effectively was the club's strength and conditioning department. The same at Carlton when he followed Denis Pagan to Princes Park in 2003. Less than a decade on, fitness personnel have become akin to missiles in football's sports science arms race.

Specialisation of roles has brought about far greater individualisation in the pre and post-game departments of conditioning and rehabilitation. Attention to detail - the Ross Lyon mantra - has become a key plank in the search for success.

Performance analysts are commonplace, dissecting players' preparation on the track from a physical and decision-making perspective. Skill acquisition specialists, weights coaches, psychologists, biomechanists, physiologists are all full-time football club employees.

Dieticians - who once visited once a fortnight to tell Nick Stevens or Stuey Dew to watch their skinfolds - have been usurped by full-time nutritionists, tailoring individual eating and meal plans, ordering daily supplementation programs of amino acids, protein/carbohydrate mixes, probiotics, minerals, vitamins.

Elite performance is not a goal for weekends only, but every training session.

Players have iPad apps for the daily routine of inputting ratings of health, muscle and joint soreness, sleep quality and the like.

Clubs can afford to regularly analyse blood and saliva in search of signs of fatigue from overtraining.

Presumably, ''Plugger'' Lockett, Danny Frawley and Greg Burns demolishing pizzas and stubbies on the drive back to Ballarat wouldn't have escaped scrutiny.

Discussed objectively and used as a prompt for sensible interventions, Mulkearns says this avalanche of information is a godsend. Yet there is a knack in trusting that the human being can still tell you more than the machine, in not letting data override decision-making.

Treat it as gospel, and workloads might be reduced or players kept off the track altogether, when in truth they might have been better served by pushing through. A word of advice from the guru of altitude training, Utah-based Dr Jim Stray-Gundersen, has stayed with him. Asked which blood markers best pointed to overtraining, Stray-Gundersen said: ''Ask the athlete how he feels.''

Continuity of training builds resilience and durability, even in the rehabilitating athlete.

Mulkearns is proud of the low injury rate at the clubs where he has worked, and is convinced it debunks the myth that training two days in a row increases susceptibility to injury.

Pagan had the balls out at the first pre-season session in 1996, and was a big advocate of his men doing something every day. His training philosophy was doubtless influenced by a conviction that ''the strong will survive'', but Mulkearns says the coach always listened to his charges, too. He loved it when he said, ''I've got full confidence in ya, son.''

Dealing with Gen Y has brought other changes. Not so long ago, Robert Scott was a rarity in constantly asking, ''Why?'' and, ''What's this doing for us?'' Now, education sessions are part and parcel of a pre-season for players who read the fine print in their training programs and aren't too shy to question it.

Mulkearns believes players today are undeniably more athletic and capable of greater physical feats, the leaping, gut-busting products of better and more scientific training.

A club's challenge is striking the right balance, not losing sight of the belief that coaching is front-and-centre, science the support act.

Knowing exactly where your group is at is critical. Intense musculo-skeletal screening in Brad Scott's early days at North revealed that, on the whole, his players lacked the core strength and motor control to manage heavy workloads. For a time, much work was done without obvious results, confusing and frustrating those who were feeling pain without gain.

Mulkearns says Scott has a passion to be at the cutting edge, that preparation of his players will mirror his own in the quest to become aerobic beasts. Carey, Luke Ball, Lenny Hayes, Brent and Robert Harvey, Nick Riewoldt, John Blakey and Anthony Stevens are among the best trainers he has seen.

From the sweatshop floor, he has seen one constant in elite sporting success: hard work in the pre-season. Those Pagan premiership teams of 1996 and '99 were marked by a work-hard, play-hard mentality, with captain Carey leading the way. They were, Mulkearns recalls, ''a team of hardened men''. Winning in September before players have reached their physical peak is a curve football teams rarely jump.

He isn't anti-sports science by any stretch, but knows that all the new-age training in the world can't fast forward maturity. When he returned to North three seasons ago, he was struck by how many players' bodies were still developing. ''There's no way I could have asked the players of 2010 to do what the players of 1999 could do.''

That he believes Jack Ziebell is on his way to joining the above group who left nothing on the track is an indicator that North Melbourne is edging closer. That Ziebell is about to turn 22 and immersed in his fifth senior pre-season is a sobering thought for the 100 kids who were drafted on Thursday night.

No matter how good they are tipped to be, they won't get there until their bodies let them. Their work has just begun.

AFL 2015

Round 1
Thu, 02 AprTimes shown AEDT
CAR 78 vs RIC 105 Report Stats
Sat, 04 AprTimes shown AEDT
MEL 115 vs GCF 89 Stats
SYD 72 vs ESS 60 Stats
BRI 74 vs COL 86 Stats
WBU 97 vs WCE 87 Stats
Sun, 05 AprTimes shown AEST
STK 78 vs GWS 87 Stats
ADE 140 vs NTH 63 Stats
FRE 75 vs PTA 68 Stats
Mon, 06 AprTimes shown AEST
HAW 123 vs GEE 61 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 2
Fri, 10 AprTimes shown AEST
WCE 131 vs CAR 62 Stats
Sat, 11 AprTimes shown AEST
RIC 66 vs WBU 85 Report Stats
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
Sun, 12 AprTimes shown AEST
GEE 60 vs FRE 104 Stats
ESS 78 vs HAW 76 Stats
NTH 133 vs BRI 51 Stats
View All Fixtures
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
SYD 111 vs GWS 90 Report Stats
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
View All Fixtures
Round 4
Fri, 24 AprTimes shown AEST
RIC 51 vs MEL 83 Stats
Sat, 25 AprTimes shown AEST
STK 81 vs CAR 121 Report Report Stats
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
WBU 125 vs ADE 68 Stats
View All Fixtures
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
View All Fixtures
Round 6
Fri, 08 MayTimes shown AEST
COL vs GEE 19:50MCG
Sat, 09 MayTimes shown AEST
NTH vs RIC 13:45BA
WBU vs STK 14:10ES
GWS vs HAW 16:35Spotless Stadium
GCF vs ADE 17:10MS
MEL vs SYD 19:20MCG
FRE vs ESS 20:10Domain Stadium
Sun, 10 MayTimes shown AEST
CAR vs BRI 15:20ES
PTA vs WCE 16:40Adelaide Oval
View All Fixtures
Round 7
Fri, 15 MayTimes shown AEST
ESS vs NTH 19:50ES
Sat, 16 MayTimes shown AEST
ADE vs STK 13:45Adelaide Oval
HAW vs MEL 14:10MCG
CAR vs GWS 16:35ES
SYD vs GEE 19:20ANZ
WCE vs GCF 19:40Domain Stadium
Sun, 17 MayTimes shown AEST
WBU vs FRE 13:10ES
RIC vs COL 15:20MCG
BRI vs PTA 16:40G
View All Fixtures
Round 8
Fri, 22 MayTimes shown AEST
GEE vs CAR 19:50ES
Sat, 23 MayTimes shown AEST
STK vs WCE 13:45ES
GWS vs ADE 14:10Spotless Stadium
GCF vs COL 16:35MS
HAW vs SYD 19:20MCG
FRE vs NTH 19:40Domain Stadium
Sun, 24 MayTimes shown AEST
ESS vs BRI 13:10ES
MEL vs WBU 15:20MCG
PTA vs RIC 16:40Adelaide Oval
View All Fixtures
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
BRI vs STK 13:10G
COL vs NTH 15:20MCG
WCE vs GEE 16:40Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
Round 10
Fri, 05 JunTimes shown AEST
FRE vs RIC 20:10Domain Stadium
Sat, 06 JunTimes shown AEST
CAR vs ADE 13:40MCG
GCF vs SYD 16:35MS
ESS vs GEE 19:20ES
PTA vs WBU 19:40Adelaide Oval
Sun, 07 JunTimes shown AEST
GWS vs BRI 13:10Spotless Stadium
NTH vs WCE 15:20BA
STK vs HAW 16:40ES
Mon, 08 JunTimes shown AEST
MEL vs COL 15:20MCG
View All Fixtures
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
Sun, 14 JunTimes shown AEST
COL vs GWS 13:10MCG
STK vs MEL 16:40ES
View All Fixtures
Round 12
Thu, 18 JunTimes shown AEST
ADE vs HAW 19:50Adelaide Oval
Fri, 19 JunTimes shown AEST
RIC vs WCE 19:50MCG
Sat, 20 JunTimes shown AEST
CAR vs PTA 13:40MCG
GWS vs NTH 16:35Spotless Stadium
WBU vs BRI 19:20ES
Sun, 21 JunTimes shown AEST
GEE vs MEL 15:20SS
View All Fixtures
Round 13
Thu, 25 JunTimes shown AEST
FRE vs COL 20:10Domain Stadium
Fri, 26 JunTimes shown AEST
SYD vs RIC 19:50SCG
Sat, 27 JunTimes shown AEST
HAW vs ESS 13:40MCG
BRI vs ADE 16:35G
STK vs WBU 19:20ES
Sun, 28 JunTimes shown AEST
CAR vs GCF 15:20ES
View All Fixtures
Round 14
Thu, 02 JulTimes shown AEST
SYD vs PTA 19:20SCG
Fri, 03 JulTimes shown AEST
COL vs HAW 19:50MCG
Sat, 04 JulTimes shown AEST
RIC vs GWS 13:40MCG
GCF vs NTH 16:35MS
WBU vs CAR 19:20ES
MEL vs WCE 19:40TIO
Sun, 05 JulTimes shown AEST
ESS vs STK 13:10ES
ADE vs GEE 15:20Adelaide Oval
FRE vs BRI 16:40Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
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
WBU vs GCF 16:35CAZ
NTH vs GEE 19:20ES
WCE vs ADE 19:40Domain Stadium
Sun, 12 JulTimes shown AEST
GWS vs STK 13:10Spotless Stadium
HAW vs FRE 15:20AS
BRI vs SYD 16:40G
View All Fixtures
Round 16
Fri, 17 JulTimes shown AEST
NTH vs ESS 19:50ES
Sat, 18 JulTimes shown AEST
GEE vs WBU 13:45SS
GCF vs GWS 14:10MS
COL vs WCE 16:35ES
SYD vs HAW 19:20ANZ
FRE vs CAR 19:40Domain Stadium
Sun, 19 JulTimes shown AEST
MEL vs BRI 13:10MCG
PTA vs ADE 15:20Adelaide Oval
STK vs RIC 16:40ES
View All Fixtures
Round 17
Fri, 24 JulTimes shown AEST
CAR vs HAW 19:50ES
Sat, 25 JulTimes shown AEST
GWS vs GEE 13:45SO
ADE vs GCF 14:10Adelaide Oval
RIC vs FRE 16:35MCG
ESS vs PTA 19:20ES
BRI vs NTH 19:20G
Sun, 26 JulTimes shown AEST
WBU vs COL 13:10ES
MEL vs STK 15:20MCG
WCE vs SYD 16:40Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
Round 18
Fri, 31 JulTimes shown AEST
HAW vs RIC 19:50MCG
Sat, 01 AugTimes shown AEST
GEE vs BRI 13:45SS
COL vs MEL 14:10MCG
SYD vs ADE 16:35SCG
CAR vs NTH 19:20ES
GCF vs WCE 19:20MS
Sun, 02 AugTimes shown AEST
PTA vs STK 13:10Adelaide Oval
ESS vs WBU 15:20ES
FRE vs GWS 16:40Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
Round 19
Fri, 07 AugTimes shown AEST
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
Sun, 09 AugTimes shown AEST
MEL vs NTH 13:10MCG
GWS vs ESS 15:20Spotless Stadium
STK vs FRE 16:40ES
View All Fixtures
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
RIC vs GCF 13:10MCG
WBU vs MEL 15:20ES
FRE vs WCE 16:40Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
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
WCE vs WBU 16:40Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
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
ADE vs WCE 13:10Adelaide Oval
STK vs SYD 15:20ES
FRE vs MEL 16:40Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
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
SYD vs GCF 00:00SCG
MEL vs GWS 00:00ES
BRI vs WBU 00:00G
PTA vs FRE 00:30Adelaide Oval
WCE vs STK 02:00Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
AFL 2015
Overall standings
Team P W L D % Pts
Fremantle 5 5 0 0 151.10 20
Collingwood 5 4 1 0 147.53 16
Western Bulldogs 5 4 1 0 104.75 16
Hawthorn 5 3 2 0 149.86 12
West Coast Eagles 5 3 2 0 145.92 12
Sydney Swans 5 3 2 0 118.26 12
Adelaide Crows 5 3 2 0 111.40 12
GWS Giants 5 3 2 0 102.87 12
View all
 
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