A SIXTH season in the offing, but just his second full pre-season in the bank.
If there’s one Carlton player who knows the merit of a complete summer, it’s Harry McKay. With 95 per cent of sessions ticked off, he’s achieved exactly that.
In past seasons, Carlton’s big man has had to play catch up. A combination of back, toe and groin injuries have restricted McKay’s preparation in recent seasons, but the 23-year-old was quick to remark how different this year was compared to previous.
With 71 goals from 48 games so far in his career to date, it’s no surprise that McKay has his sights firmly set on a big year in Navy Blue.
“It’s really different this time around… it’s chalk and cheese,” McKay told Carlton Media.
“I was lucky to finish the season healthy and with the body feeling good. We had quite a big break in terms of being away from the Club, which provided a good chance to get to work and have a consistent 12-14 weeks away from the Club to train in the gym or on the track. I felt really good on day one of pre-season and I’ve been able to continue that consistency throughout the last 6-8 weeks.
“From past experience, having a pre-season compared to not having one means the world: you feel so much better and stronger and more adapted to playing football when you have a summer.
“I’m looking forward to actually being fit heading into the season instead of playing catch up.”
McKay’s only other full pre-season was leading into the 2019 campaign, which yielded his best return in front of goal since his debut in 2017. That doesn’t even quite tell the full story, with the tall forward registering 16 goals in his first nine games before managing groin soreness saw him finish the year with 26 goals (and 30 behinds).
The benefits of McKay’s recent run seemed to be on best display in the club’s recent match simulation session last week, where he kicked five goals straight and hauled in just as many contested marks.
It’s a summer which has led him to describe it not only his best personally, but also the standout he’s seen from the collective at Ikon Park.
And the shortened pre-season across the board has meant there’s been absolutely no time to waste for any of the 18 teams.
“I’ve pretty much done every session. In previous years, we’ve had four or five months of pre-season: in reality, if you didn’t have an amazing session, it wouldn’t be the end of the world: this year, every session counts and we’ve only got a handful left,” he said.
“The intent has been awesome from session one and it’s been as good as I have seen at the Club since I’ve been here. This time of year can be about how well guys are running, but the way they’re hitting bodies and tackling hard is always a good sign.
“It’s been hot. The evenness across both teams in match simulation has stood out, picking a best 22 is going to be really hard at the moment.”
Throughout match simulation, it’s been a common occurrence to see McKay pitted against a fellow member of his 2015 draft class.
With Jacob Weitering having emerged as one of the competition’s finest defenders in recent years, McKay hasn’t had to look far for inspiration when it comes to his impact on the competition.
And as the man himself puts it, he can only get better from playing on one of the game’s best.
“Since day one I’ve been with ‘Weiters’,” he said.
“Over the last two years, you’ve seen what he can do and his consistency in training and in games has really shone through. It’s a lesson for everyone that you can turn the corner pretty quickly and play some outstanding footy.
“He’s so hard to play on and I reckon it’d be harder playing on ‘Weiters’ than anyone else in the comp. That’s always a bonus, to work against and with someone of that calibre.”
McKay and Weitering formed part of an intake which Marc Murphy recently described as ‘not young anymore’, a premise McKay absolutely agrees with.
While Carlton’s leadership group for the 2021 season has yet to be named, he said the onus was on everyone - and not just a select few - to lead from the front for the benefit of the football club.
“We’ve been around for quite a while now,” he said.
“I don’t think it’s necessarily about having a title in terms of being in a leadership role or being a captain. We’ve been pretty big on the fact that we need the guys - we need everyone - driving the standards and driving the leadership.
“Whether that comes with a title or not, we expect everyone to be able to challenge, celebrate and drive standards, and lead the group regardless of stature.”
McKay took matters into his own heads with his pre-season beginning even before returning to Ikon Park, with the tall forward pictured undertaking sprint training with ‘The Speed Project’.
McKay’s rationale was quite simple: make your strengths even stronger.
“I think my speed and athleticism is a strength of mine: as an industry, we can get caught up in working on the things you’re not so good at,” he said.
“I went the other way, in terms of making my strengths as good as they can be. I hadn’t done a heap of it in the past, but it was always really enjoyable.”