l love the AFL pre-season.
Specifically, I love that sweet spot between the end of January and Round 1 when the upcoming season is still nothing but potential.
Sure, there might be a few players in the rehab group, but as a whole the list usually looks great - fresh off their holidays, tanned and fit - their spirits not yet crushed by the grind of the season proper. This phenomenon is particularly true of the West Coast Eagles, who always start the year with tans darker than everyone else. Maybe the gold and royal blue brings it out more, but you'd be forgiven for thinking they had a sun bed company as a major sponsor.
The beauty of the pre-season is that there are no games to worry about, nothing on the line, just endless possibilities and training reports to devour. Oh, those wonderful training reports! I'm not talking about those puff pieces in the mainstream media, either. You know the ones, where Player X is “burning up the track”, “the fittest they've ever been”, or my personal favourite, “training the house down”, an expression so vague and dumb it's actually endearing.
No, I'm talking about the real training reports.
The ones you find on various online footy forums, usually posted by someone with a hilariously dated handle (e.g. JesseWhiteFan79), who's somehow wrangled the day off work and gone down to training just to give a breathless blow-by-blow description of a handball drill, or observe some innocuous interaction between player and coach which sends them into wild extrapolations. What does it mean? A potential positional change? A growing bond? Evidence of a divide?
Who cares! It's the pre-season!
Maybe in your head you start talking up your chances for the upcoming year. After all, you've just got in an exciting crop of draftees and we all know that footage of someone dominating at an Under-18 level is a guarantee they'll be a superstar in the big league, right?
Your 3-5 year players all ran PBs in the 3km time trial, virtually guaranteeing them “midfield minutes”. Or maybe you've brought in a free agent to be the missing piece of the puzzle. He was an All-Australian at one point in time, what if he recaptures that form? Or maybe you replaced your senior coach and now finally you have a bulletproof game plan?
Maybe this is the year it all finally comes together (unless you barrack for the Hawks, in which case it comes together, on average, every 3-5 years).
It probably wouldn't shock you to find out that my team is St Kilda, a club whose entire fanbase is either blind optimists or tragic masochists and I'm not sure what is worse.
We live on hope, we thrive on the promise of a fairytale ending, even if all the available evidence is to the contrary. For us, pre-season is a time to forget everything we think we know (and just straight up know-know) about the club and imagine for just one second that this is all the start of something incredibly special.
Is it fanciful? Sure.
Is it deluded? Maybe.
But until that first ball is bounced, ignorance is bliss.