Leading the way to regain X factor

WHEN you are an AFL footballer, you don't have to go far to find advice. It comes from all places - the coach's box, the grandstands, the television - and in all forms - game-plan graphics, stats sheets and ''wellness'' reports.

Jack Trengove received his fair share of advice last season.

He got it after he was appointed the youngest co-captain in AFL/VFL history at the start of the year.

He got some more when Melbourne started 2012 by losing its first nine matches.

And he got even more when it appeared the captaincy was weighing down his own form.

Everyone had a theory.

But sometimes it's only when a player sits back with a mind clear of the in-season ''junk'' that he can see what is really going on. For Trengove, it was staring him in the face - he was trying to play like the captain he thought he should be, rather than the player his teammates chose to lead them.

''My sole focus going into the season last year was to nail all the team aspects, because I was co-captain of the club and I needed to be seen to be leading the way in all those things,'' the 21-year-old said.

''And that was a good thing, but as a result it probably did impact on my own natural flair in a way - that sort of went out of my game a little bit.

''So at the end of the season I sat back and thought, 'well, the main reason why I'm in the position I'm in [co-captain] is because of that flair. So, if I lose that, then that can really have a huge effect'.

''Finding that flair again is going to be really important for me this season.''

His end-of-season review with coach Mark Neeld confirmed what he was already thinking. Melbourne needs the Jack Trengove who burst onto the scene in 2010 and averaged 19 disposals in a manner that began to justify the club's decision to use its now-controversial priority pick to secure him.

The Jack Trengove that, by the following year, averaged 20 touches in a manner that had Melbourne supporters wondering whether he was better suited to carrying the No. 1 draft pick mantle than Tom Scully.

But in 2012, something was missing. Trengove called it his ''X Factor''. Not only did his numbers go way down - he averaged 17 disposals playing mostly as a midfielder - his game lacked penetration and the balance between doing the ''team things'' and fuelling his ''X Factor'' was out of kilter.

Although it's not generally his strong suit, Trengove's ''metres gained'' numbers - a key statistic Champion Data uses to track a player's influence on the game - dropped dramatically, as did his scoreboard impact.

The pendulum for him was swinging defensively, and for the good of the team - or so he felt at a time when the Demons were battling just to be competitive.

His offence was neglected, perhaps best reflected in the number of times Trengove was involved in the Demons' scoring chains, which dropped from 25 per cent in 2011 to 18.

''There is no doubt, that if I'm ever going to take that next step, then there is a few of those key stats that you just spoke about there that need to be improved,'' Trengove conceded.

The young star even entertained the notion that, as captain, he began to measure himself too much against the overall team performance, rather than his own standards.

''Footy these days has turned into playing your role within the team, and that will be what gets the team success, which I 100 per cent agree with,'' he said.

''But you can't throw away the fact that … while it's great to be very team-oriented - which you want all your players to be - there are times in matches where part of your role is to go and win the ball and do different things that aren't probably considered the real team-oriented stuff.''

To illustrate just how team-first the skipper played last season, Trengove shared the club's internal award for ''one percenters'' with Jordie McKenzie.

His GPS tracking statistics were also high, suggesting that - if anything - Trengove was working too hard to reach his best.

And perhaps that is why Demons supporters should be excited about what the South Australian might have in store for 2013, even though for now he is sidelined with a foot stress fracture that is likely to keep him out of the NAB Cup.

Even if his energy was misdirected, his ability to put mind and body to task is where it needs to be for a midfielder trying to reach that ''elite'' bracket.

''It is good to know that I could nail something that I set out to do,'' he said.

Maybe it's genetic. Trengove's sister Jessica put her mental toughness to perhaps the ultimate test in London last year when she represented Australia in the marathon. As he prepares to bounce back from a self-described disappointing year, Trengove said watching his sister compete on the world stage had been a source of inspiration.

''Even though I'm living over here and she's over in Adelaide, I see all the hard work that she puts in,'' he said.

''I guess as AFL players we feel like it's tough at times, but then you realise that you get to do what you love doing full-time and can devote your whole life to it. With athletes in her position, they can't do it as a full-time job. She is a part-time physiotherapist as well, and she has to sacrifice a lot of things to become the kind of athlete she is.''

It was one of many ''invaluable'' lessons Trengove said he learnt last season, about himself and about leadership.

Rarely has a captaincy appointment generated more media scrutiny than Melbourne's decision to pair Trengove with Jack Grimes, 23, a fact that was not lost on the duo. ''We spoke about how the year panned out and there is no doubting that it was probably one of the toughest starts to life as a captain as you could have got,'' he said.

The spotlight on the Trengove-Grimes tandem intensified as losses piled up early last year, and reached a fever pitch in round six when both co-captains started a game against Geelong on the interchange, a move that some commentators viewed as ''symbolic'' of how the Demons' season was slumping.

Part of the fascination surrounding Jack and Jack is the concept of co-captaincy and how it works in a football club.

''We just do it as we see it,'' Trengove said. ''We are very similar types of people. If we see something, we just want to act on it immediately. We don't divide things up and say 'you do this, and I'll do that'. We just share that load naturally.''

So it was last year, and so it will be this season - the only set-in-stone alternating duty is the toss of the coin.

But they won't do it alone. The Demons have broadened their leadership group to nine players, including the additions of recruits Chris Dawes and Shannon Byrnes - a decision Trengove believes has already paid off for a team that won just four games and finished 16th in Neeld's first year as coach.

Trengove said he sensed a change at Melbourne, and not just because of the influx of players such as Dawes, Byrnes, David Rodan, Cam Pederson and a talented crop of draft picks creating greater competition for spots.

''Going into the season last year, we had new coaches and new systems in place, so it was always going to be challenging,'' he said.

''But I think the thing we lacked was the complete buy-in, 100 per cent from all the players.

''I'm sure everyone was trying to, but there just wasn't enough time in one pre-season to actually bring that forward and have it show up in results.

''Going into the second year of the system and the coaches, it's exciting because we know we will be better off.

''But with the influx of new players, it will take a bit of time for everyone to link in and get to know each other's game.

''You can't put a number of games on it that you want to win, but I'm predicting a huge improvement on what we did last year.''

The story Leading the way to regain X factor first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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