What’s it like inside an AFL Club as they try to play a game in 4 days time?
CARLTON faced its first four-day break of the fixture cram between its loss to Collingwood last Sunday and its clash with Greater Western Sydney on Thursday night.
The 97 hours between the end of one game and the first bounce of the next were carefully planned as the Blues gave themselves their best chance to win despite the tight turnaround.
In coach David Teague’s time as player or coach, he had never been a part of a side having to play four days after one game. Neither had high-performance boss Andrew Russell, who has steered Hawthorn and Port Adelaide to premierships in his more than 20 years in the game.
The Blues provided full inner-sanctum access to AFL.com.au during the week to detail how they handled the challenge.
Sunday, August 30
Teague wanted to get it out of the way. After the Blues’ second-half stumble against Collingwood at the Gabba – a loss that could prove critical in their finals chances – they reviewed the game immediately as a group while in the room.
“We didn’t want to sweep it under the carpet. We wanted to use the opportunity to learn and get better,” he said.
But there was another more subliminal factor in doing the review at the ground with such a short break. By the time they had left Brisbane at 7pm, that game and venue was in the past. Fifty minutes later they arrived back at the Mercure Resort on the Gold Coast with the Giants in their sights.
Russell concentrated on “refuelling” the group with carbohydrates, proteins and vegetables, and a good night’s sleep. The club has worked with its players on optimising sleeping patterns, like breathing techniques, and has found they are unwinding better this season than ever before.
“The shorter games mean they come down quicker and no doubt the smaller crowds have an impact,” Russell said. “They play a big, stressful game over 130 minutes in front of 80,000 people and that really stresses their nervous system. It’s easier at the moment.”
Andrew Russell, Carlton High Performance – AFL Photos
Monday, August 31
The Blues were up at 7am and into a recovery session by 8am, swapping between hot and cold water and steam rooms, while also wearing compression boots to enhance the recovery process.
A leadership group meeting also took place and was a strong reflection on the loss to the Magpies and also provided some direction for the days ahead.
Given sessions will be minimised and there are fewer days between games, co-captains Patrick Cripps and Sam Docherty and the rest of the leaders are tasked with setting the tone for the week. They were encouraged to instil positive energy in the group.
“There was a bit of frustration around the way we played so we wanted to address it, and leadership really sets the scene for where we want to go,” Teague said.
Cripps had more on his plate. After leaving the field limping in the second half against the Pies with a knee injury, scans cleared him of any structural injuries.
But he also received a corked quad in his brutal collision with Chris Mayne that left the Magpie with a fractured cheekbone. The contusion looms as the biggest threat to Cripps facing the Giants.
Russell and the Blues’ medical team started working on the superstar midfielder early: getting consistent low-level movement in throughout the morning and finding as much range in the injury as possible.
“The challenge with corkies is you can re-bleed if you do too much too early, but with a four-day break if he re-bleeds he’s done anyway, so we’ll be super aggressive and give him the best chance to be as highly functional as he can,” Russell said.
In between swapping hotels to the Royal Pines around lunchtime, the Blues headed for another recovery session, this one at the beach. Russell has reiterated his philosophy for the week: movement is mindset. By keeping moving, the Blues will stay fresh.
Throughout the afternoon many players grabbed their line coaches for individual reviews on their games against the Magpies, before they gathered in their main meeting space at the hotel for a presentation from club psychologist Tarah Kavanagh.
Kavanagh wants the Blues to be able to find a way to rest mentally, likening the body to a car engine.
“When you want to get your engine running, it’s emotion that does that but you also need to let your engine rest,” she said. “Recovery is about getting rid of that adrenaline.”
She asks for ways the players think they can unwind while living in the high performance centre, with surfing, mindfulness and a round of golf thrown up as suggestions. “Golf can be a bit stressful at times,” joked experienced midfielder Ed Curnow, who sat in the front row.
They also reiterated the need to get the Collingwood game out of the mind and highlight the Blues’ ‘debrief’ process.
“If you want to do your debrief the coaches are here and I’m sure they’ll speak you through it,” said Docherty to the group. “We do it to know what we can do better.”
Cripps and Mayne’s collision – AFL Photos
Tuesday, September 1
At 9am Docherty and defensive coach Dale Amos are sitting around a laptop screen watching edits of the half-back’s performance against Collingwood.
In the corner of the Blues’ recreation room, and among a pool and tennis table, Daytona racing machines and PlayStations, the attacking half-back studies it intently. They discuss kick-out plans, his decision to leave an opponent to create a spoil, and even a left-foot pass that didn’t go to plan. “I’m working on it, it’s not my strong suit,” he said.
Flipping between broadcast and behind-the-goals vision that Amos spent seven hours cutting post-game, they discuss Collingwood’s use of wingman Tom Phillips playing as a forward and how to react to that different structure.
That chat goes for half an hour before Docherty joins the rest of the defenders on the way to the Bond University recovery centre nearby. They do a 20-40 minute light gym session, and are instructed to do 10 laps of walking or running in the pool.
“It’s a great facility and we go there because it’s a change-up from Monday’s location,” Russell said.
“I wanted them to run without the weight-bearing stress going through their body so they got in the pool.”
Young Blues Sam Walsh, Will Setterfield and Paddy Dow were in the water when Cripps joined them after a stretching session as he continued his bid to play.
Carlton returned in mini-buses to the hub and hit the track for a light but energetic touch session on the field at the hotel. The coaches, who did their opposition meeting on Monday, convened earlier on Tuesday to select a squad of about 28 players and in their minds already knew how they wanted to line up.
“We met before training and said ‘If everyone gets through, this is what it will look like’,” said Teague, who was vocal in the session.
“Because we weren’t going to do a full proper training session, we did some skills and then just touched on the educational points. But we kept it pretty minimal. It’s just to keep that purpose around what we’re doing and not just float through to our next game.”
Just about every Blue went to the beach for an extra optional recovery session in the afternoon, with some line meetings booked in for later on.
The defenders gather at 5.30pm to watch how the Giants’ forwards are working and how their ball movement is placed. They see where – and how often – Giants defender Aidan Corr aims his kick-outs, while Jacob Weitering and Lachie Plowman discuss Jeremy Cameron’s leading patterns.
By the end of the day, Russell had players telling him they felt fresh. The message has been sold. “You have to use a combination of science and art,” he said. “That’s what it is and that’s what it will always be.”
Main training session – AFL Photos
Wednesday, September 2
After two early starts, the Blues give the players the morning off. Some headed to the beach again anyway or to Bond’s recovery centre, while Cripps was into his program before most in the most crucial day of his bid to play.
The three-time best and fairest winner headed to an AFL-approved recovery clinic to run on an AlterG anti-gravity machine to get his body going, then returned to the team hotel for a stretching session ahead of training. Outside of the club, nobody knew about his corkie battle, with all attention on his knee.
Prior to hitting the track, Teague addresses the group, having all but settled on the 22 for Thursday.
“We pick the team we think will give us the best chance of winning. You might not agree, you might think we’re doing the wrong thing, but it’s not personal,” he said.
There’s still room for fun, evidenced by first-year Blue Brodie Kemp getting in front of the full squad to deliver a rousing word-for-word rendition of Al Pacino’s ‘inch by inch’ speech from the movie Any Given Sunday.
After that unexpected interlude the Blues disband into one more line meeting each before heading to a training oval at Metricon Stadium for their main session.
“We did more than we normally would on a ‘captain’s run’. The focus was team energy, feeling that connection with each other on the track, and then really getting a feel for the footy – their touch and decision-making component,” Russell said.
“We did some high intensity running and they took that into the decision-making and kicking drill where they moved the ball really well.”
By 4pm, the Blues are on their own time until Thursday afternoon when the bus leaves for Metricon Stadium. But Cripps is still doing everything he can to get right. After training he had another stretching and massage session, had lymphatic draining to assist reducing the tightness and inflammation in his quad and then had a spa in the evening.
“He hasn’t stopped today. He’s hardly sat down all day,” Russell said. “This is where these guys are pretty tough mentally. They just say ‘You know what? I’m going to get up to play this week’.”
Game Day- AFL Photos
Thursday, September 3
By game day Teague had his plan for the Giants sorted, leaving some valued time to spend with his family, who are also in Queensland with the club.
“Being a shorter week there’s been a few late nights doing the ‘oppo’, but once I do the last meeting on Wednesday I won’t spend too much more time on them. If anything I might go to the next game at times,” he said.
Teague tries to chat with every player every week and the hub environment has allowed those conversations to be less structured, be it over breakfast or dinner, or a talk by the pool.
Carlton players spent the day relaxing. Some, like Cripps, went to the beach, others went for a walk to stretch the legs, while some more sat in the hotel’s lobby playing cards and passing time. A few had a nap in the middle of the day, breaking a night game into two days.
“The really high-level performers are smart and they’re continually experimenting and playing around with different ways to do it on game day,” Russell said.
Around 5pm the players met on the bottom level of the hotel for the five-minute trip to Metricon Stadium. Teague left confident his side was ready.
“I think we’re really well prepared,” he said. “We’ve got the energy back and I look forward to going out there and playing our way.”
For three quarters, Carlton held firm. The Blues were on top of the Giants, leading by 15 points at the final change, before being overrun by last year’s Grand Finalists in the fourth quarter. Cripps played and had 13 disposals, and was among every pack when the game was on the line.
The nine-point loss all but ended Carlton’s faint finals hopes, but the club will have little time to dwell on the defeat. Following a once-off four-day break before facing the Giants, the Blues will be back at Metricon on Tuesday against Sydney after a five-day break. The process starts again.
Article originally on AFL.com.au