REDEMPTION is not just a word for the 2016 Geelong Falcons group. It is a mantra.
Over the past few years, the Falcons have finished top four, but failed to make a grand final, which has the current crop determined to reach this year’s decider.
Max Augerinos chatted to AFL Draft Central after the Falcons’ qualifying final win over North Ballarat Rebels and spoke about his own battles with injury, the burning desire to reverse the team’s lack of recent finals success and what it was like to run around with potential number one draft pick Hugh McCluggage.
“He’s going to be a player to watch, that Max Augerinos,” the TAC Cup radio team declared during the Falcons’ 2014 finals campaign. Less than half an hour, their assessment of the up-and-coming bottom ager was less positive. “There’s a Falcons player down and it looks bad,” they called. “I’d say that’s Max Augerinos and it does not look good, he’s going to be helped off the field.”
Augerinos had just torn his anterior cruciate ligament in a moment that would, for better or worse change his focus and footballing. Rather than mope around about the prospect of missing most of his top-age year, Augerinos put his head down and worked, determined to get back.
Instead of worrying about what he had lost, Augerinos decided to use the time as a longer pre-season, working on aspects of his game to improve when he returned to the field.
“I used that time during my injury to work on the things I needed to work on because I was pretty advanced in my rehab from early on,” he said. “So I had a lot of things to do that I could put my mind to and Andy Althorpe really helped me with that.”
Augerinos said he knew to be in the mix there was a number of aspects he had to fix, including his body size and running style.
“I really got my body right. I was probably five kilograms heavier than I was now, two years ago, so I’ve really trimmed down and got my running good,” he said. “I couldn’t really run in my bottom age year, I just sort of jogged around and got the ball forward. “I’ve just really been working on that transitional running and keeping that contested ball there while doing it.”
Remarkably, Augerinos did not have to wait twelve months to return to the field. Instead, on June 13, 2015, he ran out with the Falcons for the first time in nine months, taking on Tasmania.
Augerinos picked up 13 disposals, 10 of which were effective, took two marks and laid three tackles in the Falcons’ draw at Avalon Airport Oval. The Falcons midfielder played the last 10 games of the season, but was yet to play in a finals victory.
In 2016, after missing out on being drafted, the 176cm inside midfielder chose to return to the Falcons as an over-ager. Augerinos has played 13 games, averaging a team-high 25.5 disposals as well as 3.1 marks and 4.5 tackles. Now, he and his teammates are one win away from running out at Etihad Stadium in the 2016 TAC Cup Grand Final.
They made it to the preliminary final after defeating the North Ballarat Rebels at Box Hill City Oval. While many of the players had questions asked of them in the match, no player had a bigger task than that of Augerinos. The nuggety midfielder was given the job to nullify ball winner Hugh McCluggage.
After a slow start that saw McCluggage get off the chain in the first term, Augerinos got on top, not only nullifying the potential number one draft pick, but collecting 22 disposals to McCluggage’s 20 in a strong performance. For Augerinos, it was just a case of doing what he had to in order to help the team.
“I think as a team we really just went out there and sacrificed our individual games and did everything we could just to get that finals win we’ve been looking for,” he said. “That was my mindset which was the same as everyone’s. “I got given a job on McCluggage and I just sacrificed some of my own game just to pull him down a bit. “He’s a great player, it was good to go head-to-head with him, I enjoyed it a lot.”
Augerinos said it was a tough ask, especially early when McCluggage would get away as the Falcons ball magnet would characteristically bury himself under the pack.
He said he had to learn a new aspect where he would also be mindful of his accountability on a player that had a different approach to the stoppages. “I myself see the ball on the inside layer and just really attack it,” Augerinos said. “He’s a bit more outside and takes off really quickly so I had to be a bit wary of when to pick and choose when to go. “Just around the ground his running was super elite and he really showed me what super outside midfield play is all about and it was a pleasure to play on him.”
With the Sandringham Dragons standing between the Falcons and a grand final berth, Augerinos said the Geelong squad is confident they can go all the way in 2016, with the Dragons the next scalp to claim.
“I reckon we can (win the flag),” he said. “We’ve got a really good, really exciting feeling about this bunch of guys. “It’s really different, even squad and that could get us over the line in the end.”