HARRY McKay knows he has had plenty of goalscoring opportunities in the past. But this year, just like his side Carlton's pursuit to make the finals, he is ready to take them.
There are reasons for that confidence. The hulking key forward, who last year took his contested marking to a new level, has spent much of this pre-season refining his goalkicking, both on and off the field.
There's been the countless shots at goal during training, but the 23-year-old has also stepped into the mental space of goalkicking, and after booting 47 goals and 45 behinds over the past two seasons, is doing everything to better that conversion in 2021.
"In the break I did a bit of work with a sports psych just around the mental side of goalkicking and then obviously doing a lot of work physically," McKay told AFL.com.au.
"I've put in a fair bit of work. You can do all the work you want, but the results come out on game day when there's pressure and fans around and your team needs you to kick goals. I feel like I'm in a good space with it and I'm still of the mindset that [it's] as long as you get opportunities.
"I always want the ball in my hands, I always want shots on goal, so regardless if I've missed a few I still want the ball."
The time spent with his sports psychologist has seen McKay sharpen his focus.
"It was something I wanted to explore more because you can do all the physical stuff but if on game day you're not in a great mental space then it doesn't really matter. I haven't done a heap of it before, so I was just exploring it," he said.
"It's pretty individualised, but I've been doing a bit of work on that fear of outcome and trying to take that away. And then backing myself in. I'm a nice kick, it doesn't matter if the goals are in front of me or not. So it's been really good."
Harder, better, faster, stronger.— Carlton FC (@CarltonFC) February 18, 2021
For just the second time in his career, Harry McKay has a full pre-season under his belt. Playing catch-up no longer, he's ready to launch. ??
The early signs are promising. McKay booted five goals in a dominant display two weeks ago in Carlton's intraclub and has enjoyed a consistent and healthy pre-season.
It is in stark contrast to last year's campaign when a groin injury ruined his summer, kept him out of round one and had him making up ground thereafter.
McKay still led Carlton's goalkicking with 21 majors, but as he enters his sixth season in the AFL, the 48-gamer is ready to take the leap and join the League's dominant big men.
"I feel like I'm a quite a lot better footballer than I was six months ago, and six months before that. I look back at some vision or at my mindset before that and I feel like I've grown a fair bit. I just turned 23 so there's a lot of growth to go," he said.
McKay joined Carlton in the 2015 NAB AFL Draft at pick No.10, two selections before the Blues nabbed Charlie Curnow. Respective injuries have meant the forward pair have played only 23 games together in that time, with Curnow again set to miss the start of this season with another knee setback.
"Charlie was looking really good with his knee late last year as we were leaving into pre-season so I was really excited to have a summer working together and hopefully playing games again," he said.
"We have played a little bit of footy together and it's really good fun. In saying that you can't get too caught up in what could have been, I love playing with (fellow forwards) Levi (Casboult) and 'Gov' (Mitch McGovern) just as much as I love playing with Charlie."
Carlton wants the pair playing together for the long-term, too. McKay is out of contract at the end of the season and as one of the best young key forwards in the game would command serious interest from rivals. Last year, the Bombers raised McKay as a trade option in the Adam Saad deal, but were immediately shot down by the Blues.
McKay said his contract was not front of mind.
"I don't think about it too much until someone talks about it in the media. It's probably the last thing on my mind to be honest. I'm just really enjoying training and now the games are coming up I think my manager and the club are bubbling away in the background. I don't spend too much time thinking about it," he said.
"I'm pretty happy where I am and how I'm going at the moment."
Instead, McKay and the Blues are concentrating on making a fast start to 2021 and setting up a return to the finals for the first time since 2013. Carlton's poor finish to last year – it lost four of the last five games of the season – saw it miss a top-eight berth but with the arrival of Saad and free agent Zac Williams, hopes are high.
"I don't think it's any secret we want to play finals this year and without speaking out of turn, if we don't make finals it's not a great year. There are no excuses any more. We're not happy with honourable losses or 'We were in the game, but we lost it'. That's out the door," McKay said.
"We're here to play finals football and we ultimately want to win the flag so our group is at the stage where if we don't [play finals] we haven't had a good year. There's obviously things around that but as a group and as players, absolutely we want to play finals and we want our fans to come and watch and be excited about our growth and playing some finals football.
"Make no mistake, that's our goal for this year and if we don't achieve that then we'll be really disappointed."