A first-ever AFL pre-season has Jay Lockhart ready to take his game to a new level.
Added to Melbourne's rookie list just weeks before the 2019 season, Lockhart debuted in round two and played 12 games before falling out of favour in the latter stages of the year.
Kept on Melbourne's rookie list for 2020, the 24-year-old ex-North Launceston star put in the hard yards over the off-season and has been named on an extended bench for the Dees' Sunday clash with West Coast.
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"The Casey [Demons VFL] program is pretty good so I was at a level where I could play, but not at a high enough level where I could sustain it for the whole year," Lockhart said of his first year in the system.
"But having that full pre-season, you get to experience the tough times with all the guys at once so it was really good for me.
"We went through some really hard sessions and now you look back and look at each other and know that you've both done it, whereas I felt a bit bad that I didn't get to do all that hard stuff with them [last year] and I was just playing.
"It's been really awesome, I think I've improved a lot just from the pre-season - stronger and fitter and stuff like that as well, so it's been so good."
After a dire campaign last year, Melbourne's pre-season has appeared a more accurate reflection of the talent on Simon's Goodwin's list.
The Demons registered five-goal wins over Adelaide and Hawthorn to finish pre-season undefeated with Lockhart registering 13 touches and four marks in the first win and an impressive 22 touches and nine marks in what was his first return to UTAS Stadium since the 2017 TSL grand final.
A former Lilydale District high student, Lockhart said the Demons were balancing a firm belief in their list with the reality of last season's second-bottom finish.
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"We think we can be a very good team this year," Lockhart said.
"We haven't played an actual game yet so we're still the 17th team position-wise, but we've worked extremely hard and tried to fix up a few things we didn't get right last year.
"I haven't set really any [personal] goals ... we've got a really strong group this year especially in the backs - we've got about 11 or 12 guys in the back-line that could play any given week so it's really competitive for spots.
"It's good that we're not so much putting pressure on each other, but making sure that guys are not slacking off and really giving it 100 per cent so that our team can win.
"I don't really have a goal but mine is to play as many games as possible and help Melbourne win - I want to be a part of whatever success or whatever this year brings."
Together with 2017 flag teammate Tarryn Thomas and ruck pair Toby Nankervis and Tom Bellchambers, Lockhart is one of four ex-Northern Bombers in the AFL.
Of that quartet, only former top-10-pick Thomas is contracted beyond this season with 30-year-old Bellchambers an unrestricted free agent.
"I've just got to let my footy do the talking really," said Lockhart, who is the nephew of Lilydale premiership coach Colin.
"If I don't play any games and I don't perform then it is what it is, but I'll just be working as hard as I can to try and do well this year and whatever happens happens.
"But I really love the Melbourne footy club and would love to stay as long as I can."