Grand­stand De­signs

GEE­LONG SU­PER­STAR PA­TRICK DANGER­FIELD IS AMONG THE MOST HEAV­ILY TAGGED PLAY­ERS IN THE AFL. HERE HE RE­VEALS THE SE­CRETS TO PER­FORM­ING WHEN THE HEAT IS AL­WAYS ON

Men's Health (Australia) - - Contents - BY BEN JHOTY // PHO­TOG­RA­PHY BY JU­LIAN KINGMA

Gee­long’s Pa­trick Danger­field on how to ex­cel as a marked man.

PA­TRICK DANGER­FIELD shields his eyes from the sun as he sits among the empty seats of the Premier­ship Stand at Kar­dinia Park in Gee­long. It’s an un­char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally bril­liant mid­win­ter morn­ing in Vic­to­ria’s fa­mously sleepy coastal town and the Cats star jokes about get­ting sun­burnt over the roar of a trac­tor mower that’s creep­ing rit­u­ally up and down the field be­low.

Danger­field is in a suit­ably sunny mood al­though you sus­pect he’s the type of bloke who’s on the look­out for a self-ef­fac­ing gag or a sub­tle dig. Partly this is de­flec­tion wrought from years hu­mour­ing a foot­ball-hun­gry me­dia, first in Ade­laide and now here in Gee­long. “I find if you an­swer things with a smile, peo­ple gen­er­ally don’t go as hard as if you’re be­ing se­ri­ous,” he says. Partly it’s the in­flu­ence of his club, which he says, boasts “a cul­ture of piss-tak­ers”. But mostly it’s just the way he is. “It’s sort of just my way. I like to have fun with things.”

He cer­tainly has plenty to smile about. A Brown­low medal­list and five-time All Aus­tralian, ‘Dan­ger’ made a suc­cess­ful switch to the Cats in 2016 af­ter eight years in Ade­laide. He now lives in the coastal ham­let of Moggs Creek, a leisurely hour’s drive down the Surf

Coast, in a house just 250m or a hand­ful of tor­pedo punts, from the one he grew up in. When he’s not play­ing footy, he surfs, fishes for trout or chases around his 14-mon­thold Ge­orge.

It’s a good life . . . with a gap­ing hole in the mid­dle. Af­ter three pre­lim­i­nary fi­nal losses Danger­field eyes a premier­ship the way a seag­ull down on the town’s un­der­rated pier stalks a fam­ily’s fish and chips. “It’s the suc­cess that you see one team achieve every sea­son and every­one else misses out on,” he says. “I want a piece of that. Noth­ing else mat­ters apart from that. It just doesn’t.” And just like that, as the roar of the mower fades into the dis­tance, Pa­trick Danger­field is no longer smil­ing.

FIND THE FIRE WITHIN

As you walk around the out­side of Kar­dinia Park you’re stopped in your tracks by a win­dow cab­i­net hous­ing a re­mark­able dis­play of sil­ver­ware. The Cats’ nine premier­ship cups stand in rows three abreast in clas­sic for­ward­line for­ma­tion. The most re­cent of those pre­mier­ships, in 2007, 2009 and 2011, fill the bot­tom row, a tes­ta­ment to the jug­ger­naut that terrorised the AFL dur­ing a glo­ri­ous five-year stretch. A hand­ful of play­ers re­mains from those great sides – among them cap­tain Joel Sel­wood, de­fen­sive stal­wart Harry Tay­lor and an­other one you might have heard of, Gary Ablett Jr., who re­turned to the club this year. If Danger­field needed any re­mind­ing of what he

hopes to achieve it’s right here in this splen­did win­dow.

“Whether it’s be­cause I’ve got team­mates that have been good enough to have won it all, noth­ing matches that mo­ti­va­tion,” he says. “The chal­lenge is, the fi­nals are a very short win­dow of time, then it’s one spe­cific game. That’s when you find out what you’re re­ally made of. The pres­sure gets turned up and you see who sur­vives and thrives and who doesn’t.”

Which is fine with Danger­field. He’s al­ways played like his next game could be his last. Go back to the 2016 sea­son when he was the most talked about re­cruit in the com­pe­ti­tion. The hope among Cats sup­port­ers was that he could be the miss­ing piece that would see the club re­turn to premier­ship con­tention. Al­ready among the most heav­ily tagged play­ers in the league, go­ing into that sea­son no one in the AFL had a big­ger cross on their back. His re­sponse in the face of such scru­tiny couldn’t have been more em­phatic. He won the Brown­low, polling a then-record 35 votes and fin­ished best on ground nine times, equalling the record set by Carl­ton great Greg Wil­liams in 1994 and Nat Fyfe in 2015.

“I think the key to be­ing a good player is just to em­brace that pres­sure rather than try and run from it,” he says of the hype that sur­rounded him that sea­son. “Pres­sure is al­ways there but I think ex­ter­nal pres­sure will never match that which you put on your­self. That’s what sep­a­rates the re­ally good play­ers. It’s not about what’s writ­ten in the Her­ald Sun, it’s about what you want to achieve.”

So, what hap­pens if he gets to the end of his ca­reer and hasn’t sipped from the premier­ship cup? “There would be an el­e­ment of not be­ing ful­filled,” he ad­mits. “The in­di­vid­ual stuff is great but it pales into in­signif­i­cance when you can’t share it with any­one. The rea­son the feel­ing of win­ning is so great is be­cause you get to share it with your team­mates. You get to share the sto­ries.”

“Ex­ter­nal pres­sure can’t match what you put on your­self ”

MAS­TER YOUR DO­MAINS

A funny thing hap­pened to Danger­field ear­lier this year – he suf­fered a soft tis­sue in­jury. An ex­ceed­ingly com­mon in­jury in a game as ex­plo­sive as the mod­ern AFL, what made it un­usual was that it was the mid­fielder’s first. Given his game re­lies on a fine bal­ance of bal­lis­tic speed, strength and agility – he won the grand fi­nal sprint three years run­ning and boasts a 100m PB of 10.84 – it was an as­ton­ish­ing streak. “It was quite bizarre,” he says of the in­jury. “It hurts the ego to be hon­est.”

Jokes aside, he at­tributes his dura­bil­ity to solid ge­net­ics, re­in­forced by an in­ten­sive ap­proach to train­ing. “It’s train­ing with the same in­ten­sity as you play be­cause then it’s not a shock to the sys­tem when you set foot on the ground. Your body is adapted to play at that speed.”

Even so, Danger­field hopes to ex­tend his prime by ad­just­ing his game to his body’s ca­pa­bil­i­ties. “Whether that’s pick­ing and choos­ing the con­tests that you go to or read­ing the game bet­ter,” he says. “You might be a few sec­onds quicker up­stairs and al­though your body doesn’t quite match that, you might pick up cues bet­ter and be able to re­act ear­lier.”

The in­sight demon­strates a crafts­man’s work­ing knowl­edge of both his game and his body, an im­pres­sion un­der­lined by the way he mar­shals his men­tal re­sources. Take his twin pas­sions of fish­ing and surf­ing, two pur­suits that trans­port him men­tally, he says, al­beit by quite dis­tinct means. “With surf­ing the only thing you’re wor­ried about is the next wave, whereas with fish­ing you en­joy the chase of try­ing to catch some­thing.”

They’re both life­long pas­sions. In­deed, it’s amaz­ing how much Danger­field’s life – footy, surf­ing and fish­ing in Moggs – re­sem­bles the one he en­joyed 20-odd years ago. But this finely cal­i­brated, split-shift way of liv­ing is no ac­ci­dent. “It’s on pur­pose,” he con­firms. “I think it’s cru­cial to elite per­for­mance. You’ve got to be able to take your­self away from be­ing so en­trenched in footy. There’s a time and a place for that. Early on in my ca­reer it was just footy. Now it’s about liv­ing a more bal­anced life­style. It works for me.”

It’s a rar­efied form of the elu­sive work/life bal­ance we’re all striv­ing for. The key, Danger­field says, is the clear de­mar­ca­tion be­tween your two worlds. The cruisy beach re­treat of­fered by Moggs means that when it does come time to fo­cus on footy, he’s 100 per cent locked in. Per­haps that ex­plains why this most easy-go­ing of blokes rarely smiles on the field. “I think the big­gest thing as an ath­lete is your at­ti­tude to­wards com­pe­ti­tion,” he says. “Never be­ing sat­is­fied with a re­sult if it isn’t the one you re­ally crave. Hav­ing the at­ti­tude that if you don’t play well your team won’t win. You’ve got to con­stantly keep your­self ac­count­able to that. I think the best have this killer men­tal­ity that not every­one has.”

A mo­ment passes be­fore the smile re­turns to his face but make no mis­take, when it comes to footy, Pa­trick Danger­field has it.

“The best have a killer men­tal­ity that not every­one has”

STA­DIUM ROCKER: DANGER­FIELD IS A FAN FAVOURITE AT ‘THE CATTERY’.

ROAR POWER: FEW CAN STOP DANGER­FIELD IN FULL FLIGHT.

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