One of the boys

Updated: December 21, 2015


FOR a majority AFL players, the torture of pre-season is something they could quite happily bypass.

For Daniel Menzel it’s the football normality he has craved for four years.

After four knee reconstructions, and many questions about his future, the 24-year-old is tackling his first pre-season since 2011 with the enthusiasm of a new draftee.

“As difficult as it is, and as hard as it is, every session I go into going I’d much prefer doing this than being over on the side doing what the rehab boys are doing,” Menzel said.

“Once again, it comes back to not taking anything for granted, but to actually get that continuity in training and train with the boys, it’s going to give me a really good platform going into the season.”

Tendon soreness in the left knee is a reminder of what he has been through, but the occasional stabbing pain is something that he is more than happy to put up with.

“It tells me we’ve pushed it and ticked off another session, and it’s sore because we have put some strain on it,” Menzel said.

“The soreness at the time’s not great, but it means that down the track it’s definitely going to be worth it.”

Menzel was the feelgood story of 2015 in what was a bleak year for the Cats, who would watch on in September for the first time since 2006.

His comeback through the VFL on a wet and miserable July day at Werribee lifted spirits.

Then he proved fairytales do come true in his AFL return, kicking four goals and pulling down a stunning mark in a performance that was a scintillating reminder of the potential that lay dormant for 1448 days.

He played the following week against Adelaide in the send-off for club greats James Kelly, Steve Johnson and Mathew Stokes, but, even by his own admission, struggled to get into the game, earning just five possessions before being subbed out of the contest.

“I was just drained,” Menzel said of his 23rd game.

“The week I had coming off my comeback game, I had the documentary, the messages, I couldn’t come down off the high.

“I didn’t really sleep much that week at all and I didn’t get near the footy.

“It wasn’t about me, it was about the boys having their last game.”

Menzel isn’t sure whether he would have preferred the season to have continued beyond those two matches.

“It was a really weird finish because for the week or two after I didn’t feel like going on holidays, although I did,” he said.

“I felt like still training and playing because I’d just got back,” he said.

“It was a really weird feeling mentally. It would have been interesting to see how I would have gone the next few weeks.”

Menzel says getting his comeback out of the way before 2015 concluded was important.

“I think that’s massive, but I think probably more externally, and even internally at the club, it’s even bigger,” he said

“What it’s done, it’s taken away those questions and that doubt and that pressure.

“Obviously I’ve had confidence in my body the whole time to come back, but if I hadn’t played last year there would be questions from everyone going into the season; where am I at? Will I be able to play? Will I be able to perform?

“So it is nice to have come back and had a decent impact on the game as well, because it does take the question out of people’s minds.”

Now firmly focussed on 2016, Menzel says planning of the management of his body is well underway.

“I’m not going to be naive and say that I’m going to play every game, because I’m not.

“When you haven’t played in pretty much four years, you’re not going to come in and play 22 straight games.

“It’ll be something that we plan at the start of the year and look at and go “alright, let’s manage it each week and work out where we’re at, and say if we played 7-8 games and need a break we do it”.

“For me, I absolutely want to play the majority of the season, and whether that’s 15, 17, 18, 19 games, whatever it ends up being we’ll take.”

Having watched from the sidelines when the Cats last lifted the premiership cup in 2011, Menzel wants to be a key part of a new era of success at Simonds Stadium.

The arrival of Patrick Dangerfield, Lachie Henderson, Scott Selwood and Zac Smith has many experts predicting a quick return to the AFL’s upper echelon.

“It’s really exciting. There’s a lot of anticipation around,” Menzel said.

“With that, I think externally there’s a lot of expectation as well.

“But we know, sure, we’ve had a lot of good players come in, we’ve got some good draftees come in as well, but it doesn’t just happen.

“You need to have guys on the park to train with them, and there’s guys we picked up last year who haven’t played a lot of footy with the group.

“It’s good to have talent, absolutely, but it doesn’t just flick the switch.

“You’ve actually got to get that continuity of training and playing before it starts to come all together.”

Menzel says Dangerfield, Henderson and Smith (Selwood remains sidelined following ankle surgery) have all had an impact on the group.

“Paddy Dangerfield, I’ve done a little bit of running with, and he’s a great addition to us,” Menzel said.

“Lachie Henderson’s one I’ve played on a little bit in match play and he’s impressed me.

“I don’t think Lachie’s had a great pre-season the last couple of seasons either, so it’s great to have him out there doing everything.

“And Zac Smith’s on the park, and for us to have ruckman on the park training is a big thing.

“It’s been a really good addition to our group.”

Twitter: @tom_king79

Kevin Paisley Eyewear