The road to recovery has been slow and steady for ruckman Sam Naismith – thankfully, there’s light at the end of the tunnel.
The 24-year-old, who enjoyed a breakout season in 2016, has been restricted to lighter duties this pre-season as he recovers from reconstructive surgery on his shoulder.
Naismith, who suffered the injury on the eve of finals, battled manfully throughout the Sydney Swans’ September campaign before carrying the issue into the Grand Final.
He underwent an operation the following Monday and has been rehabbing the sore spot ever since, staying away from competitive work until recently when the Swans upped the ante in preparation for the upcoming JLT Community Series.
He’ll increase his workload in the next two weeks with an aim to play in at least one pre-season series game before knocking on the selectors’ doors in the build up to next month’s season opener against Port Adelaide.
“Coming off the shoulder reco it has been a bit daunting going into this season knowing I’m going to be so far back with pre-season (training),” Naismith conceded.
“But I’ve been working with the strength and conditioning guys and with (Mark Kilgallon) in the weights room, building that muscle and getting that confidence back in my shoulder.
“I’m at the stage now where I’m about two weeks away from playing.”
In Naismith’s absence, and with Callum Sinclair also on the comeback trail, first-year recruit Darcy Cameron will step up into the vacant ruck position in Sunday’s JLT Community Series clash with North Melbourne.
Cameron has impressed coaches with his application this pre-season and produced a strong showing against Kurt Tippett in Sydney’s intra-club practice match to earn an immediate crack at AFL football.
A strong performance could see John Longmire and co. opt for the green but form ruckman for Round 1, giving Cameron what looked an unlikely first-round debut when the 203cm Western Australian arrived at the football club via November’s National Draft.
Naismith lauded Cameron’s impact.
“We obviously had a few guys leave last year … so it’s a different make-up this year, but I think our core group is pretty strong,” he said.
“I haven’t done too much of the contact work with them to date but that’s going to happen over the next few weeks.
“It’s always exciting to see a new guy come in and hold his own against Tippo in the intra-club, which is healthy for us.
“I think everyone’s putting pressure on each other – in reality there’s four guys going for the number one spot – it’s only going to make that push for selection that much harder for the selectors, especially when everyone’s putting their best foot forward.
“It’s going to be interesting over the next few weeks. Hopefully I can put my hand up and give the coaches some headaches.”
Naismith broke up his pre-season campaign with a trip back to his home town of Gunnedah as part of this year’s Australia Post AFL Community Camp.
He, alongside first-year player Sam Fisher, visited several schools and hosted junior clinics in the New England region during the two-day program.
“It’s always great to get back to try and promote the game,” Naismith added.
“It’s not traditionally an AFL area, it’s more Rugby League and Rugby Union, (but) every year we see more kids coming down to the clinics and asking more questions within schools.”