Path to fitness: North Melbourne's Jack Ziebell, Brent Harvey and Drew Petrie. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo
WHILE the minutiae of sports science can be a turn-off for some footballers, for Jack Ziebell the chance to learn about how and why things occur and what impact these have on the body means more than just improving himself as a player.
The North Melbourne vice-captain, amid ever-increasing on-and-off-field commitments, is studying exercise science at the Australian Catholic University, and hopes to head down the fitness path once his career is over.
''Talking about the professionalism here [at Arden Street] with the new facilities, footballers these days have a crash course in sports science,'' he said. ''Especially here at North, we get educated in why we do stuff, what it does to us.
''When we go to altitude, you don't just nod your head and do it. You ask questions why you are doing this, what it is doing to us, and what the benefits are going to be.''
The benefits began to show for the Kangaroos last season, when they featured in September for the first time in four years.
It wasn't a happy ending, though, for Brad Scott's men were schooled on the wide expanses of Patersons Stadium by a ferocious West Coast.
Still, there was a lot to like about the Kangaroos, with an emerging band of youngsters, another superb season by skipper Andrew Swallow and the veteran leadership of Brent Harvey and Drew Petrie.
Scott stuck with a three-pronged marking forward line of Robbie Tarrant, Lachie Hansen and Petrie despite questioning from some outside the club. In the end, though, the Eagles' pace really hurt.
''We had a pretty good second half of the year last year. The way we played in the last two rounds of the year, and the final you could probably put in there as well, we probably let ourselves down,'' Ziebell said. ''It wasn't the game plan, it was just the application of the game plan. It was a little disappointing in that aspect because we had worked so hard to get to where we were, to fall down in the last couple of rounds was bitterly disappointing.''
Ziebell, 21, endured a frustrating season. At his best - as he was in round three against Geelong when he had 27 disposals and four goals - he was dynamic but he felt he was too inconsistent despite averaging almost 20 disposals per game.
That wasn't helped by missing the opening two weeks of the season because of suspension, and there was another four-week absence after his controversial bump on Carlton's Aaron Joseph.
''It's always frustrating if you are fully fit and not playing but, probably from my point of view, I was a little bit inconsistent as well,'' he said. ''I have been working pretty hard for consistency over the last 12 months, staying injury-free, but my output was probably a little bit disappointing. I had some good games but then supplemented them with some poor games. I need to bring that all together.''
Ziebell also had a couple of heavy knocks early in the season but, true to his upfront nature, said he had to handle these situations better.
''I think I need to be able to push through if I am a bit sore and … and make sure every time you step out on to the field you are ready to go,'' he said. ''Another pre-season will hopefully help me with that.''
It's been 13 years since the Kangaroos were last seen on grand final day, and all but one man from the team which edged Carlton - Harvey - is gone. Harvey is still powering through yet another pre-season, although his home-and-away campaign won't begin until round seven because of suspension.
Ziebell has asked Harvey about what it means to taste the ultimate glory. ''When you sit there and watch Sydney [win] last season, you are ultimately very jealous,'' he said. ''You go to a guy like 'Boomer' and ask him about the premiership, and the ones he played in, he just says: 'It's the best thing ever'.
''You can understand why he keeps coming back after a feeling like that so early in his career. He just wants to replicate it again and again.''