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Pre-season blunders over the years

The pre-season should be a time for players to hit their straps and gear up for the season ahead. But, from questionable accidents to heartbreaking season ending injuries and scandalous hits to a club’s morale and culture, some pre-seasons are memorable for clubs or individual players for all the wrong reasons…

Injuries

Sure, injuries often happen in training. But injuries outside the usual strains and tweaks can throw a real curveball – especially when they’re not even sustained on the footy field.

  • Ollie Wines’ skiing incident – a late January trip on the water turned out to be much more than that in 2019 for Wines, as he dislocated his shoulder and dashed his chances of starting the season fit. The incident left the club defending players’ rights to recreational activities, and was a bit awkward given that the club was yet to announce him as co-captain following Travis Boak stepping down. This was on top of the obvious affect, being one of their best players missing out on the opening couple of rounds.
  • Tom Mitchell’s broken leg – fresh off a Brownlow and rearing to go for another crack, Mitchell suffered that horrific leg injury during a pre-season training session that wrote off his entire 2019 season. It was an ominous incident for Hawthorn, who sunk below the bottom eight with a gaping Tom Mitchell shaped hole in their midfield.
  • Jordan De Goey’s hand injury – just before the 2017 season kicked off, De Goey broke his hand in a bar fight, but blamed the injury on a dog bite. Aside from the injury itself which side-lined him for the first three rounds, the club imposed a three-match ban as well – meaning they were missing a crucial member of their forward line for the opening six rounds, a period where they only won two matches before going on to finish 13th. Speaking of injuries to Magpie hands, Jeremy Howe found himself looking unlikely for round 1 in 2016 after breaking his finger whilst taking his dog for a walk. People were dubious that he was telling the truth, but the club backed him up and confirmed that it was in fact an accident, albeit poorly timed.
  • Andrew Welsh’s leg mishap – an intra-club match in the pre-season of 2009 saw Andrew Welsh break his leg and dislocate his ankle. He actually returned in round 12 that year, but retired 2 years later after only 17 more matches, conceding that he never fully recovered from the injury.
  • David Astbury’s sting ray encounter – Astbury found himself on the wrong side of a sting ray barb just before the start of the 2015 season, being pierced through the foot and ankle. The sting required surgery, and forced him to miss the first 2 games of the season.

Cultural blows

Nothing interrupts a pending season quite like issues behind closed doors.

  • Adelaide pre-season camp – it’s almost odd that a camp designed to improve mental toughness and boost club morale could do the exact opposite. This turned out to be disastrous for Adelaide, who went from being minor premiers and grand finalists to finishing in the bottom eight. But that only really scratches the surface of the true effect of this camp – it’s well documented that it was highly traumatic for those involved and had lasting effects on players in a negative way.
  • Eddie stepping down – still a fresh wound for Collingwood, having their president of 23 years step down was always going to be a sad day. But it was the circumstances surrounding the end of Eddie’s tenure that really dominated their pre-season this year and ultimately caused him to walk, being the racism allegations that initially surfaced last year. It remains to be seen how this will affect their season, but it’s likely that it will cast a shadow over the Pies’ this year in some form or another.
  • Essendon drug scandal – this could be said to be a secondary pre-season debacle in 2015, given that the club had to field a substantially depleted team for the first 2 matches of the pre-season. This was because the 25 players still on the list from 2012 couldn’t play to protect the identity of the 17 players provisionally suspended and charged with taking the banned substance. It also affected the pre-season of GWS and St Kilda, who had to face a second tier team in preparation for the season.
  • Carlton salary cap breach – whilst the salary cap saga had started to unravel publicly in the late stages of 2002, they were formally charged on Feb 7, 2003 – right in the middle of the pre-season. This put Carlton on the wrong side of unwanted attention, and set a gloomy precedent for what went on to be a shocking year for the club – finishing second last with only four wins.
  • Melbourne tanking saga – while the Demons were investigated for tanking in the 2009 season and overall found not guilty, in the pre-season of 2013 they were fined $500,000, with Dean Bailey suspended from the club and having any contact with the club for 16 weeks and Chris Connolly suspended for a year. This cast a menacing shadow over the club not only for the season that followed, but also for the next few years.

Scandals

There’s a fine line between cultural incidents and scandal, but some things could not possibly be referred to as anything else.

  • Ricky Nixon’s ‘St Kilda schoolgirl’ incident – this reared its head in the pre-season of 2011, when footage was released of Ricky Nixon in his underwear in the hotel room of the girl at the centre of the St Kilda schoolgirl scandal from the previous year. It definitely dampened things for the Saints, who were constantly battling the situation as it unfolded off-field, in addition to the incessant media coverage.
  • Mathew Stokes’ 2010 drug charges – Stokes was charged in the pre-season of 2010 for cocaine trafficking and possession, something which not only threatened his start to the season but also his entire AFL career. Considering this, he got off lightly – missing the first 7 games of the season, but brought Geelong’s professionalism and absence of negative publicity across a time of large success for the club to a halt.
  • Andrew Lovett’s fateful pre-season – early 2010 saw Andrew Lovett’s indiscretion-riddled tenure at the Saints come to an end after serious charges were laid against him in February. It was something the club didn’t need in the midst of a hopeful premiership assault.
  • Collingwood nude photo scandal – Magpie duo Travis Cloke and Dane Swan found themselves entwined in a nude photo scandal in the pre-season of 2016, involving images being published in Woman’s Day. Interestingly, they weren’t handed any sanctions by the club, but the incident obviously didn’t do wonders for the reputation of a club that had already seen its fair share of scandal in recent years.
  • Jon Patton nude photo saga – most recently, Patton was stood down by Hawthorn after the lewd photo scandal that unfolded over the last few months. It’s yet to be seen how this will affect his career and the club, but for someone who has had such a horror run with injury, off-field issues are the last thing he (and the club) needs.

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