ONE year and one week ago, Tom Williamson told Carlton Media “the body is feeling strong and it’s holding up”.
Now, with no hesitation and even a laugh in response to the question, he confidently says “I can comfortably say that I’m in the best physical shape and the best footy shape that I’ve ever been in”.
One year and one week ago, Tom Williamson told Carlton Media “[the injury] is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do it. It’s hard because it’s your job… you can’t escape it.”
Now, he says “I go to training or go to work every day and try to leave knowing that I’ve improved as a player or gotten the best out of the day.”
The difference a year makes.
It was a year which so many would want to forget, but 2020 was - quite simply - the year that Carlton’s No.31 needed. Even if he maintains that he didn’t have the greatest of years.
He’s backing himself to improve in 2021, to be more consistent in “literally everything I’ve been doing”.
If 2020 was about returning to what he loved, 2021 is about taking his game to another level.
It was very much a case of going back to the future for Williamson last year, with the 22-year-old feeling as though he was heading into his first year again. As fate would have it, he played 15 games last season: the same amount he managed in his debut season of 2017.
“Early on, that was probably the mindset without even thinking it — just to get back to playing footy, appreciating being back playing and enjoying playing footy again,” Williamson said.
“Then that obviously turns into the fact that when you’re out there, you have to perform. I didn’t have the greatest of years last year. I’d have good patches in games, whether that’s kicking the ball, to contest work, to boxing out better.
"It’s about refining that consistency which will come about from being on the training track more often.
“I’ve got to keep backing myself in. I know that I can do it.”
That extra time on the training track will be music to the ears of Carlton supporters and Williamson himself, who has backed up session after session since the resumption of the new year.
While Williamson set himself a foundation last year with his pre-season to date, even that involved one big session and a lighter one to follow up. Now, he’s had five weeks of uninterrupted training — and that’s just the start of it. After essentially missing two years with a back injury, Williamson’s relief to be talking about his work on the track as opposed to off it is evident.
“It’s obviously so good - for a change - to be out there. To be out there this year and giving my body a chance to play some good footy, it feels a lot different for me,” he said.
“You can’t underestimate backing up sessions and what it does for your body. Physically, I’m heavier than last year and I’m fitter than I’ve ever been.”
It’s a much more confident and optimistic Williamson this time around, whose return to football was rewarded with a two-year contract extension at the end of last year.
Described by Head of List Management Nick Austin as “a competitor who never takes a backwards step”, Williamson couldn’t have been happier to commit his future to the Club until the end of 2022.
“It was a different mindset last year, going into a year where you’re uncontracted and unsure whether your body was actually going to hold up to what was being asked of it,” he said.
“I’ve had a year under my belt now and been rewarded with a contract, which was really good. Now, it’s about building on what I’ve done: this pre-season has been a good year to build that launch pad to hopefully have some strong years ahead.”
Where Williamson will be playing his football in 2021 is still to be determined, however.
Replacing the injured Nic Newman in his customary position across half back for the majority of the season, Williamson impressed all with his dash and drive against Brisbane in the final game of the year on the wing. Encouraged in a chat with Senior Coach David Teague, Williamson and the coaching staff will keep all options open — a common theme over the course of the summer so far.
“It’s been a really good thing to add to my game, playing that half back and wing area. With my attributes, I think it’s an area where I can develop myself and hopefully down the track can play that dual role or even as a full-time winger,” he said.
“I’ve been splitting my time between the two, even during match sim. Hopefully I’ll be available to be selected in either position this year.”
Last year may have been a significant one for Williamson for a number of reasons, but there’s still a frontier he’s looking forward to hopefully ticking off: playing in front of Victorian Bluebaggers once more.
After their support for him in his stint on the sidelines, Williamson can’t wait to hear the roar of the Navy Blue faithful once again: this time, with him wearing the famous Old Dark Navy Blue guernsey on centre stage.
“You go through a lot of ups and downs when you’ve been injured, so to have support and know you’ve got the backing of the Carlton community is massive,” he said.
“Hopefully I can pay them back with good footy in the year coming. Knowing you’ve got that support takes a bit of the edge off and to be back in the thick of it is something every player wants.”