Shepparton News

Laith finally has his tail up

AFTER HAVING TO OVERCOME INJURY HURDLES VANDERMEER IS LOOKING FORWARD TO PLAYING FINALS

- By Aydin Payne

When Sunday’s eliminatio­n final between the Western Bulldogs and Essendon rolls around Laitham Vandermeer will have ticked off a major personal milestone.

It will be the Mooroopna product’s first taste of finals football in the AFL.

And although it has come early in his career — with the exciting speedster yet to make his 20th appearance for the Bulldogs — the journey hasn’t exactly been smooth sailing.

The 22-year-old has endured his fair share of setbacks, which stretch back to his teenage years at the Cattery, but each time he’s been able to dust himself off and get back on track.

That was evident this season when a minor injury escalated into a lengthy stint on the sidelines.

No stranger to the rehab group, Vandermeer overcame his latest hurdle and now finds himself in the Dogs’ best 22 for Sunday’s do-ordie final.

“It’s pretty exciting to be involved in a finals series, especially coming off a longterm injury and all the setbacks I’ve had this year,” Vandermeer said.

“It’s been good to get back out on the field, play some strong footy and then now be back in the ones.

“For me, it feels pretty surreal to get the chance to play finals in the AFL. A lot of players go their careers without getting the chance to play (in a finals series), so to be involved this early in my career is something I’m really grateful of.”

Fresh off winning the club’s Chris Grant Award for best first-year player, Vandermeer began this season in blistering fashion.

The young gun, who has become renowned for his hunt and pressure on opposition players, cemented his spot in a side which began the year undefeated.

His classy performanc­es on the field resonated into a twoyear contract extension that ties him to the Kennel until the end of 2023.

But a back injury sustained in round six, followed by ongoing knee pain, kept the promising talent out until his return earlier this month in round 22.

“I think the biggest flaw I have are my hammies and for once I actually felt really confident with my body in preseason,” Vandermeer said.

“I started the season off really well; I had strung a few games together and I had cemented my spot and role in the side.

“But then I had a bit of a tough period with injuries. I had the initial back injury and once I got over that I hurt my knee at training. I tore some of the cartilage in my knee and ended up with bone stress.

“Some days you could run, but then the next it would be

I STARTED THE SEASON OFF REALLY WELL; I HAD STRUNG A FEW GAMES TOGETHER AND I HAD CEMENTED MY SPOT AND ROLE IN THE SIDE. BUT THEN I HAD A BIT OF A TOUGH PERIOD WITH INJURIES. I HAD THE INITIAL BACK INJURY AND ONCE I GOT OVER THAT I HURT MY KNEE AT TRAINING. I TORE SOME OF THE CARTILAGE IN MY KNEE AND ENDED UP WITH BONE STRESS. SOME DAYS YOU COULD RUN, BUT THEN THE NEXT IT WOULD BE PRETTY PAINFUL. IT WAS AN INITIAL FOUR-WEEK INJURY WHICH ENDED UP BECOMING 12 WEEKS.

pretty painful. It was an initial four-week injury which ended up becoming 12 weeks.”

His time on the sidelines was reminiscen­t of his collarbone injury in his draft year, his multiple hamstring injuries and before that — a dreaded ruptured ACL in 2015.

No longer a novice to dealing with the mental struggles that can come attached with long-term injuries, Vandermeer said he now looked at the bigger picture.

“You just have to take each opportunit­y you get, but also don’t worry about if you play a bad game. You just have to try get on with it and look towards the next one,” he said.

“JJ (teammate Jason Johannisen) and I have become very close mates and I’ve tried to take a leaf out of his book in regard to trying to take a break from footy and be relaxed off the field.

“I’ve learnt that your footy career is short and you just have to enjoy it and appreciate it while you can.”

And that’s exactly what Vandermeer hopes to do over the next two years with the Dogs.

The young and talented outfit has a bright future ahead and Vandermeer is happy to be along for the ride.

“Knowing what’s to come and what this group can achieve together I feel very fortunate to be in the side,” he said.

“It’s a pretty special feeling to be involved with this group.”

 ?? Picture: AAP ?? Back in action: Mooroopna product Laitham Vandermeer made a successful return from injury earlier this month.
Picture: AAP Back in action: Mooroopna product Laitham Vandermeer made a successful return from injury earlier this month.

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