KNEE surgery ruined Isaac Heeney’s hopes of an overdue full pre-season, but the Hunter-bred Sydney Swans star is confident it won’t stop him starting the AFL season.
Heeney and other Swans players were at Waratah Park on Monday and will return on Tuesday to meet, greet and train with more of the Hunter’s aspiring players as part of an AFL Community Camp.
Heeney, entering his fourth AFL season, was understandably a favourite on Monday with the Hunter Academy of Sport’s squad, and not just because he grew up in Black Hill, went to school in Maitland and played his junior football for Cardiff.
The 21-year-old has become a key player for the Swans, scoring 60 goals in 58 games, as a midfielder and small forward, despite his pre-season setbacks.
He missed the first five games last season because of glandular fever and he battled patella tendonitis while preparing for his first two seasons.
His latest hurdle was knee cartilage surgery seven weeks ago but he was eyeing a return to full training and a run in the pre-season JLT Community Series.
“I’m not far off, I think I do skills with the main group on Wednesday, which is extremely exciting,” Heeney said.
“Enough of running by myself and doing that rehab.
“Hopefully back into full training the next week or two and I’d like to try to get into the JLT games, but we’ll see how the knee pulls up and reacts to full training.”
Despite the time off, Heeney was “not worried about my fitness at all”.
“It’s a long pre-season and I had a really good base before the surgery,” he said. “I came back into pre-season and was running really well.
“I felt fit and strong. I was feeling the best I ever have and I thought I could have my first full, really good pre-season, then three or four weeks in, my knee just clicked a little bit and was a bit sore.
“I was still doing full sessions, then they scanned it and there was really only one option and that was to have surgery and go in and have a good look at exactly what’s going on in there, and they had to clean up a bit.”
Heeney was keen to be part of Sydney’s campaign for a better start in 2018, after they lost their first six games last season before a stunning run to the second week of the finals.
“The goal is just start off a lot better and go into it with some confidence knowing what we can do stands up against any team,” he said.
As for the chance to inspire the next generation of AFL footballers in the Hunter, the former rugby league player said: “It is a good feeling when you come back and a lot of people look up to you.
“If I can continue to be an idol and just do my best and show them what a professional athlete does, I’d love to do that.”
“Growing up there really wasn’t a hell of a lot of AFL going around.
“It was all rugby league, soccer and cricket. AFL wasn’t too big.
“Now, within like four years, there’s AFL women’s comps, they are pushing to get more teams in because there’s so many numbers. There’s now 11 teams in Newcastle BDAFL competition. It’s growing massive and there’s a lot more recognition throughout Newcastle for AFL.”