Key forward closing in on a return for Lions
He's the forgotten man of the Brisbane Lions, but Michael Close is hoping to remind all of his ability come the start of the 2016 season.
Earmarked for one of the team's key forward posts, the strapping 21-year-old suffered a season-ending knee injury (ruptured ACL) when he landed awkwardly on the Etihad Stadium surface in round two this year.
Joining the squad for the club's first pre-season training session on Monday at Coorparoo was the first step in the 195cm tall forward's bid to fulfil his potential.
"It was good to come out yesterday," Close told APN. "I did the full training session which I didn't know I was going to be able to do … and pulled up well."
"I just want to get myself right, fit and ready for round one. Put my name up as available. That's all I can do at the moment."
Taken with pick 32 in the 2012 national draft from North Ballarat, the athletic Close was left both stranded on 15 senior games and frustrated after undergoing a knee reconstruction.
He had worked hard with mentor Jonathan Brown in the two years prior to his injury.
"It is hard sitting on the sidelines knowing that the team does need a key forward and you're one of those key forwards who want to put a stamp on the game," he said.
"At the start of the year I said this is going to be a big year for me. I needed to cement that spot as the number one key forward (following Brown's retirement)."
But the injury "didn't give me the chance to do that … these things happen in footy I'm afraid."
As the Lions went on to win just four games and finish second last on the ladder, Close tried to make the best of the situation.
"I watched a lot of footage," he said. "(Gold Coast forward Tom) Lynch, for example.
"And it does give you time to work on your body … things I need to work on which is my strength."
Close said in a way he felt "pretty lucky" he had teammates in recovery with him, such as Cian Hanley (knee) and Jackson Paine (ankle).
"It made it a lot easier. It would've been very tough if you had to do it all by yourself," he said.
Though he admits, in the end, "there was too many people in the rehab group", which impacted on the Lions' season.
As well as players such as Close becoming available, the Lions will also have several entirely new faces to jostle for positions next season, including former Geelong forward Josh Walker, 22, who will vie with Close, Daniel McStay and Jonathan Freeman for a position in attack.
"He's another key forward who's come into the club," Close said.
"I haven't met him yet, but hopefully between a few of us, we can get a good combination going."
While one-to-four year Lions began training this week, all other players will start on Monday, November 23.