No footballer wants to be doing running sessions at Albert Park leading into Easter.
Not even Essendon's Andrew McGrath, a star junior athlete who excelled over hurdles before deciding he wanted to chase a football career more than a time.
Young Bombers star Andrew McGrath.Credit:Getty Images
But that is where the 21-year-old has found himself four mornings a week since the shutdown, alongside his Essendon teammate Jordan Ridley, belting out between five and 12 kilometres per session.
Sometimes the program is tailored for speed, on other occasions they work on their aerobic fitness. At all times they try to beat each other.
"We have a pretty fierce rivalry on the Albert Park track at the moment," McGrath said.
Weights follow running – unless a bike ride is thrown into the mix – then lunch, before study and, what McGrath calls "chill time", follows.
He is also using the time to build strength in a right shoulder that is strapped as tightly as a tarp covering a full trailer when he takes the field.
"I'm treating it as a time to prepare my mind and my body to get firing again when we do [play again]," McGrath said.
"We know it is inevitable that football will return. We just don't know when yet."
McGrath sounds organised, a checklist brain in an athlete's body with a footballer's determination.
"I don't like wasting time. I don't like wasting a period in my day. Every time I step out to train or to work I try to do it to the best of my ability and I think that is where the competitiveness comes from," McGrath said.
His efficiency is such that his mum, Sandy, told a reporter before the 2016 national draft that he used to take himself off to bed as a child, preferring to sleep than waste time awake.
"I did some weird stuff growing up," McGrath said.
"I would be in the house kicking footies until I hit a certain spot or kicked X amount of goals or scored 50 soccer goals against my brother.
"I would just do bizarre, intricate things that looking back now you think you were crazy. I guess it has helped to get me to where I have gotten to now."
He can laugh about his characteristic now too, knowing he has become more balanced than he was as a teenager.
"I am a lot more relaxed now but I used to be pretty intense," McGrath said.
"I had to tell myself to relax and enjoy things a little bit more. I was very intense through my athletics days. Everything is on you in those races and events so I was very wound up.
"I have learned that my performance is better when I am relaxed and calm. I know my body a lot better now and know it responds to that stimulus and being a bit more calm in the head and clear minded."
He laughs when the subject turns to Canada, where he was born in Mississauga, Ontario (where US Open champion Bianca Andreescu hails from) and lived until he turned five and the family moved to Australia because of his dad Mike's work.
Last October he joined his mum in Canada for five days to visit the 30 or so members of the extended family in the country. With Andrew's parents and two siblings, Haleigh and Noah, the only part of the family in Australia, they remain closely connected to their family's roots.
"I still feel a little connection to Canada … even as I get older I will always have a little bit of a pull back to Canada and my family over there," McGrath said.
"It will be a constant back and forth flight for me and them to always reignite that flame."
Essendon's VFLW player Kendra Heil – a Canadian herself – painted a portrait of McGrath for his 21st that had the maple leaf in the background.
McGrath admits the family still uses sayings that he only recognises as familiar only to Canadians when visitors point it out are but he draws the line at other aspects of his heritage.
"They all love maple syrup, I actually don't like it," McGrath said.
There is not much to not like about McGrath, who is taking the coronavirus break in his quick stepping stride.
When asked whether he is desperate to be back playing football, his perspective is broad, showing a genuine appreciation for the reasons behind the restrictions and the greater impact they are having on others.
"I am pretty aware of the situation and there are obviously a lot of people that are going through it a lot tougher than I am. I feel lucky in my position to still have a job whereas a lot of people have lost their's unfortunately due to what we are going through," McGrath said.
"Football comes second when it comes to that. I am looking forward to playing when we do play but I wouldn't say I am desperate to get back out there with everything that is going on."
For now football might come second. But once it does return McGrath won't be chasing any other result but first.
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