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From the Blues to the big time

HOME: Jaden McGrath is spending time in Kerang preparing for his second season with AFL side, Brisbane.
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A PAST Kerang footballer is using time in his former home town to prepare for his second season in the Australian Football League.

Jaden McGrath was one of Brisbane’s few bright lights in a season that saw the Lions finish 17th on the ladder, recording four wins from 22 games.

The 19-year-old was brilliant in his three NAB Challenge games and was justly rewarded with selection in the opening three rounds of the premiership season, garnering widespread praise for his skill and courage.

“It was a very exciting and tough pre-season, then getting to play in all three NAB cup games and then not really expecting to play round one but getting selected and being able to hold my spot for the next two games was a pretty big surprise,” a modest McGrath said.

“It was overwhelming and pretty surreal.”

McGrath seemed certain to be a regular fixture in the line-up, before he pulled up sore after round three.

A scan revealed a stress fracture in the navicular bone in his foot, and while he hoped to make a return late in the season, another stress fracture in the same foot during rehab put him out for the season.

“It was pretty tough being in rehab all year; after surgery I was non weight bearing in a moon boot for six weeks so I couldn’t do anything, then after the second stress fracture I was back in the moon boot for four weeks,” McGrath said.

While rehabilitation can be a long and lonely slog, McGrath said he was spurred on by the support of the club.

“Leppa [coach Justin Leppitsch] has been good to me and when I was injured he always kept me involved and the senior playing group was always there to point me in the right direction,” he said.

“There were quite a few boys in the rehab group and we stuck together pretty tightly and got each other through it.

“Mum and dad and all my family have been super supportive and without them it would have been very tough.”

McGrath lived with a host family after moving to Brisbane only three days after the draft last year, then about six weeks before the end of the season he moved in with teammate Mitch Robinson.

He said while it was tough to relocate so far from his family and friends, Brisbane was a great fit for his personality.

“I love it up in Brisbane because we just live a normal life because everyone is just so hell-bent on rugby,” he said.

“When I was at the TAC Cup I would read about AFL players who said once they get home they don’t watch footy or anything and I thought that was a bit weird but once you get into that environment where it’s just footy every day of the week you can see where they are coming from.

“So when you get home you try to escape it a bit and find other outlets to take your mind off it all, whether it be getting out and having a fish or playing a round of golf.”

McGrath is currently enjoying several weeks back in Kerang, before returning to Brisbane on November 5 to commence pre-season training on November 9.

“To come home and see family, catch up with friends and have time away from it all is great,” he said.

“I’ve been getting down to Byron’s Gym boxing and I’m running to make sure I’m not completely underdone when I get back up there.

“Fingers crossed that I can have another uninterrupted pre-season then be able to get some continuity into my footy, string a few games together and have a decent crack at it.”

McGrath said the coaching group wasn’t certain what position he would play next year, after lining up in both the forward and back lines in his games to date, despite playing all his junior and TAC Cup football in either the midfield or forward line.

“Being able to play at either end gives me a bit more opportunity as to what they need each week and if I can get a gig playing either one I’ll grab hold of it with both hands,” he said.

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