JUST months into his career as an AFL player, Port Adelaide’s first pick in the 2014 NAB AFL Draft is finding the adjustment to life at the elite level is coming along just as he expected.
For New South Welshman Dougal Howard, it’s been hard, and he knows it will probably get harder.
The 198cm recruit hails from a farming family in Wagga Wagga just north of the New South Wales-Victoria border
He arrived in Adelaide with his fellow recruits just a week before flying out to Dubai for the Power’s pre-season training camp.
There, he was given as brutal an introduction to life at the top level as one can get.
High-intensity running, strength and skill work has characterised the first weeks as Power players for the draft group, and Howard isn’t under any illusions as to what’s still to come.
“It’s been extremely intense, both physically and mentally trying to keep the body in good condition,” Howard told portadelaidefc.com.au.
“You’re sore and mentally trying get yourself up for training a lot of the time, the big sessions especially.”
This is Howard’s first ‘real’ pre-season, having spent his junior career playing country football at home around Wagga, and then joining TAC Cup side Murray Bushrangers last year.
There, like many players, he learned the importance of building elite training practices and an attitude that could withstand the challenges of an intense pre-season.
“It’s a huge step up for me, and tough to get used to, but I think I'm going all right,” Howard says.
“But Dubai was tough.
“Having not been at the club a week and flown out [to Dubai], we never really got time to recover and it [the challenge] played into the mental side of things; having to pick yourself up every day.
“It was the toughest week I’ve had in my life.”
Howard’s physical profile will give Port Adelaide’s coaches plenty of flexibility going forward.
His background as a tall utility playing forward, back and as a backup ruckman during his time with the Murray Bushrangers, Albury Tigers and in representative footy for the NSW/ACT Rams has seen him play all over the ground.
In many ways, the benefit of playing many roles in senior country teams chock-full of older players has given Howard a blank sheet upon which he can write his own football story.
And as the third Bushranger drafted to the Power in as many years, following defenders Jarman Impey (2013) and Tom Clurey (2012), he’s been able to watch fellow Murray alumni play important roles for Port Adelaide at AFL and SANFL levels.
Like most fresh recruits, he’s willing to play any role thrown at him by his club’s coaching panel and is just looking forward to the hard yards run across summer leading to proper game time in autumn and winter.
“I’ll probably get moved around a bit like a lot of young players do,” Howard says.
“I’d like to probably play up forward, even down back where I played a lot of footy the last couple of years, and I think the coaches see me fitting in one of those areas.
“At the moment, though, it’s tough training and I’m just pretty keen for the season to start like most boys are.
“It’s pretty tough at the moment, but when we start playing it would be great to have a go at an AFL NAB Challenge game, but I wouldn’t be too disappointed if I’m not selected, because it’ll just give me a goal to work on.
“It would be especially good to just string as many games as I can together this year in the SANFL as well.”