SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - AUGUST 03: Jeremy Finlayson of the Giants celebrates kicking a goal during the round 20 AFL match between the Greater Western Sydney Giants and the Sydney Swans at GIANTS Stadium on August 03, 2019 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/AFL Photos via Getty Images )

Jeremy Finlayson took some time to make it to AFL level but after playing the first nine games of last year he thought he had finally made it.

After a great start he dropped off. Experiencing his first uninterrupted pre-season and the pressures of senior footy was taking a toll on his mental health.

Speaking to AFL.com.au, Finlayson said that after the Giants’ round nine win over North Melbourne in 2018 he took some time off in his home town of Culcairn in the Riverina region of NSW.

“I was fatigued and mentally worn down, and I didn’t know how hard AFL footy was,” he said.

“During the week I used to think about footy, footy, footy, which is why I was fried by round nine and I ended up heading home for a break.”

Returning from five further games last season Finlayson was short of his best and didn’t get to play in any of the club’s finals games.

In 2019 he came back firing, scoring 37 goals in 19 games.

A renewed focus on his mental health has helped him emerge as a star. The forward credited working with GWS sports psychologist Darren Everett as a major factor behind his form this year.

“I probably see Darren twice a week and he’s been huge in helping me deal with the pressures of being a full-time footballer,” he said.

“Without Darren, I’d probably be struggling like I was this time last year.

“We’ve seen some of the best players in the comp taking some time off this year so it can affect anyone.

“Everyone thinks it’s a free ride playing in the AFL but it’s pretty challenging sometimes.”

To improve his work/life balance, Finlayson has taken to mentoring indigenous youth at a juvenile detention centre, even showing some around the Giants facilities.

“They get out and they end up going straight back in to detention because they’ve got no family support,” Finlayson said.

“Some guys play golf, ‘Jezza’ (Cameron) goes fishing, and this is my outlet to freshen me up, and it’s really good for me.”

“You have to have something in your life outside of footy which I didn’t understand until this season.”

Finlayson, along with Coleman Medalist Cameron and Harry Himmelberg (67 and 35 goals respectively), has played a major role in helping the Giants to their fourth straight year of finals footy.

Finlayson notes the influence his fellow forwards have had on his breakout season.

“The last couple of years I’ve had some self-doubts and they’ve just been massive for me this year, telling me to believe in myself,” he said.

“I can’t thank ‘Jez’ and Harry enough for their support.”