Focus on fitness pays off for Lonergan

ON the evidence presented so far, Jesse Lonergan's decision to forgo an end-of-season trip overseas and spend his time away from the Gold Coast focusing on his fitness has paid off.

The 19-year-old from Launceston, who was restricted to just four games for the Suns in 2013 thanks to a broken wrist in the preseason and a hamstring injury after round 9, said his body is feeling as good as ever as he embarks on AFL season number two.

``It [the focus on his fitness] has really helped me coming into this season, as I just wanted to get my hamstring nice and strong after my troubles with it,'' Lonergan told The Examiner in Launceston last week on a quick trip home.

``I haven't had any troubles with it in training, so it's all going to hold me in good stead for the season.

``I'm pulling up OK after games, even though I'm still feeling pretty sore, but that would come due to not playing footy for a while.

``But it is really good to be playing footy with the boys again.''

Lonergan featured in both of Gold Coast's NAB Challenge games collecting 11 touches in each of the matches against Essendon and Brisbane.

One noticeable aspect of his play was his willingness to throw himself into the contest, an attitude he said he wouldn't dispense with despite the issues he has had with his body.

``Growing up, that's the way I've always played my footy, and it is one of my strengths, so I've got to bring that to the team and use it to our advantage,'' he said.

``We've got plenty of guys who can win it on the outside, like Jack Martin and Harley Bennell  who can run all day.

``I've been working with guys like Michael Rischitelli and Danny Stanley, more senior inside-ball winners, seeing the way they train and how they go about, and just learning the ins and outs of stoppages.''

Lonergan said he was likely to play midfield-forward roles, with his work in attack to see him focus on ensuring the ball remains inside the Suns' attacking 50, with forward pressure a real focus for the Suns this preseason.

When he did get on the field last year, Lonergan impressed with his hardness, with Champion Data ranking him in the elite category for tackles (averaging 4.5 a game) and score assists, while he had a 91 per cent efficiency rate via handball.

But it is not just teammates he is learning from.

He described having a tagging role on dynamic midfielder Daniel Rich against the Lions as an ``amazing experience''.

``Just the way he works, he is a pretty smart footballer, so it was a good education game for me to learn a bit about what he does, so it was really good for me.

``With his work rate and his running patterns, he just knows how to get the footy and he doesn't need many touches to hurt the opposition.''

Lonergan said the major difference in himself now and 12 months ago is his attitude.

He now knows that every decision he makes in life could have a bearing on his football.

``I still love it as much as in my junior days, but just the lifestyle, it is completely different and everything you have to do you really have to think about it [before you do it].

``I know I've got a lot stronger and a lot fitter and I know my game a bit more as well, as when you train with an AFL club for a year you tend to learn a lot.''

Lonergan said his simple goals for the year was to play as many senior games as possible.

And for someone who has been playing against men since he was 15, it is a pretty natural attitude.

``I just want to play senior footy.

``I just want to play consistent footy, hold my spot and play my role for the team.''

Gold Coast will open its home and away season against Richmond at Metricon Stadium on Saturday night.

After a big off-season fitness push Jesse Lonergan is looking forward to a successful season with the Suns this year. Picture: PAUL SCAMBLER.

After a big off-season fitness push Jesse Lonergan is looking forward to a successful season with the Suns this year. Picture: PAUL SCAMBLER.