The Courier-Mail

Neale mak­ing ground on ri­vals

- COURT­NEY WALSH Sports · North Melbourne · Florida Strikers · Lachie Neale

IN AN age where fan­tasy foot­ball has given arm­chair fans the power to be the judge, jury and ex­e­cu­tioner, ev­ery player has his price.

The ob­vi­ous cat­e­gories on which judg­ment can be made are eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble. Kicks, dis­pos­als, marks, tack­les and goals are there in black and white af­ter ev­ery match.

Harder to de­ci­pher is a player’s ca­pac­ity to ap­ply pres­sure, pro­vide space for a team­mate with a block, place a kick to a team­mate’s ad­van­tage, or to en­able or pre­vent a goal.

Yes­ter­day, Brown­low Medal favourite Lachie Neale gave an in­sight into what is driv­ing his ex­cel­lence and the sta­tis­ti­cal mea­sure he val­ues the most.

The 27-year-old had much to con­sider af­ter an out­stand­ing per­for­mance against the Bull­dogs on Satur­day night as the Lions re­turned to sec­ond on the lad­der.

Neale gath­ered 36 dis­pos­als, with half of them claimed in a con­test. He was able to drive the foot­ball in­side Bris­bane’s at­tack one-fifth of the time, cleared the ball from con­ges­tion ev­ery third time he won the Sher­rin, and also man­aged to snare a goal.

But the statis­tic he places the most value on is how much ground he makes driv­ing the ball for­ward, which was mea­sured at 538m.

Neale, whose ef­fort to kick at least one goal and gather 25 or more pos­ses­sions in seven games in 2020 is far in ad­vance of his peers, has worked hard to im­prove in that area.

“I think, as an in­side mid­fielder, I spend prob­a­bly 95 per cent of my time on ball and clear­ances, and prob­a­bly con­tested foot­ball are im­por­tant to me,” he said. “But I have worked re­ally hard on hav­ing a good bal­ance, on not just be­ing a good in­side player, but try­ing to be more dam­ag­ing on the out­side.

“I don’t take too much note of the num­bers but my me­tres gained this year have gone up.

“I used to prob­a­bly hand­ball a lit­tle bit too much side­ways and back­wards, but I am mov­ing the ball for­ward a lot more.”

The key, Neale told RSN 927, was the added core and leg strength gained as he ma­tured.

“I am work­ing ex­tremely hard … on keep­ing my feet and driv­ing for­ward out of stop­pages, and I have cer­tainly im­proved in that area, but I have a long way to go to get to where I want to go with that,” he said.

In good news for those back­ing Neale into $1.60 favouritis­m with Lad­brokes to win the Brown­low Medal, the Lion feels in fine phys­i­cal shape and his form is strong with six games re­main­ing in the reg­u­lar sea­son.

Af­ter four matches in 13 days, the Lions have a rare lux­ury head­ing into Satur­day’s North Mel­bourne clash. For the first time since spend­ing time in a Syd­ney hub, they will be able to train prop­erly.

“We have a seven-day break now, which is good, but I pulled up quite well and most of the guys are the same, so credit to our fit­ness staff for get­ting us through,” Neale said.

 ??  ?? Lachie Neale driv­ing for­ward.
Lachie Neale driv­ing for­ward.

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