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Sunday Age

McPhee on the run again

Author: Samantha Lane
Date: 20/11/2005
Words: 1019
Source: SAG
          Publication: The Sunday Age
Section: Sport
Page: 8
Only now are Essendon fans finding out what was wrong with Adam McPhee this year, but Samantha Lane reports he's on the way back

FOR most of this year, Adam McPhee didn't know what was wrong with him, but he was certain something wasn't right.

Two thousand and four had delivered the 23-year-old Essendon half-back a club best and fairest award, All-Australian selection and earmarked him not only as one of the game's emerging stars but a prospective leader at the Bombers. It was the standout season of a now five-year-old career that began at Fremantle.

McPhee played 14 games this year, but for the most part struggled with an injury that was not identified until after round 22 - two months after he withdrew, an enormously frustrated soul, to try to recuperate.

Asked to assess his 2005 performance, McPhee rates maybe six of his games as "pretty good". The rest he describes as "average". His statistical contribution was superior to his weekly average the previous year, however, and he was eighth in the Crichton Medal, despite the fact he missed more than a third of Essendon's games.

In September, McPhee had an "adductor snip". Thanks to that, he is revelling in a new-found ability to run unhindered and is preparing, in the meticulous fashion for which he is well known at Windy Hill, to prove he's no flash-in-the-pan player.

Most of McPhee's spare time this off-season has been passed in the Ascot Vale clothing boutique he opened recently with girlfriend Brie. McPhee helped transform the old kebab joint with his own hands, and the couple has filled it with an impressive assortment of designer threads. He is now travelling to nearby Windy Hill enthusiastically. The same could not be said for the last few months of the 2005 season. Once McPhee's season was officially written off, he actually needed to stop going there altogether. "I said to the doctor, 'I've got to go, it's making me worse being here'," McPhee said.

"All the guys were training and I wasn't a part of it, and regardless of the fact that you're doing all the rehab, you still don't feel a part of it. I felt hopeless."

His frustration had been brewing for some time before that. After being the Bombers' best performer of 2004, McPhee missed the finals with a hamstring injury. Some weeks later, he decided to exercise the right of his All-Australian honour by making the trip to Ireland for the international rules series. He returned with knee tendonitis that troubled him for the first month of the new season.

By round three, speculation was growing that he had osteitis pubis - a condition McPhee battled at Fremantle. The fact he was wearing bike pants under his shorts convinced some that this was the case. McPhee knew it was his knee.

He came good for around six weeks, but by round 10, a nagging pain in his abdominal area had McPhee wondering whether that wretched malady of the groin had struck again. In round 13, mid-handball, McPhee felt a sharp pulling sensation in his lower stomach. He was scanned, but nothing unusual was detected. The result confounded him. When he withdrew for the year a week later, McPhee was none the wiser about what his trouble was.

"The doctors couldn't tell me what was wrong, so then the mind games come in and I started to get frustrated with where I was at," he said. "And then because of the pressure that I put on myself trying to play good football to back up the 2004 season, it all sort of just got to me.

"I just wanted an injury that was basically detectable. If it was a broken arm, you'd be out for four weeks, you'd do this, this and this rehab and I'd know where I was at."

Coach Kevin Sheedy declared that the club might have to embark on an international search to find a cure for the mysterious ailment. But the bone scans McPhee had after round 22 revealed what some had suspected all along.

"They showed a mild case of osteitis," McPhee said. "Back in round 14, (I had) a mild case of osteitis, but the person who read my MRI said I didn't.

"So I probably could have been looked after a lot earlier and then the frustration wouldn't have been there."

Though he all but disappeared from the main training sessions in the last couple of months of the season, Sheedy encouraged McPhee to involve himself in other ways - being a supportive presence on the track or a sounding board for his teammates.

But by his own admission, McPhee couldn't do it.

"I sort of distanced myself . . . from it (the side) and it doesn't help because then it looks like you don't care about where the team's going," he said.

"But when the frustration's there, it's even hard to be at the club, let alone trying to help other people.

"Through that whole time, I guess I learnt something about myself. "

After the Essendon leadership group's off-season trip to Japan last year, McPhee, a member of the group, said publicly he didn't really feel ready to be a designated club leader.

That comment might have raised eyebrows, he says, been misconstrued for reluctance or may even have been selfish. But ultimately, McPhee concludes now, his instincts were proved right.

"I do have, I guess, aspirations to be a leader with Essendon at some stage," he said. "You don't have to be captain, but just show that you're a leader in other areas and I think that's probably the weakness that I have.

"I do want to take a couple of steps forward in that area. That's something that I can improve."

First things first, though, for now at least. McPhee resumed pre-season training a week earlier than most of his teammates and, such is his rapid progress, he expects to take on the full load within three weeks. Once season 2006 comes around, he'll be hoping for another return to fashion.

McPHEE BY THE NUMBERS

2004

Games: 21

Total disposals: 362 (match average 17)

Total marks: 125 (match average 6)

2005

Games: 14

Total disposals: 257 (match average 18)

Total marks: 113 (match average 8)

 
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