TWELVE months ago, Bayley Fritsch sat down to review a season of near misses; literally.
Finishing ninth, the Demons fell one win short of finals footy.
And as for Fritsch himself, well he kicked 22 goals from 46 shots, with that inaccuracy preventing him from impacting in the way many knew he could.
But his takeaways from the rocky 2020 season were clear.
“I thought it was a good year for learning about what it takes to be the player I want to be,” Fritsch said last September.
Fast forward to September 2021, and as he wished, that chat was entirely different.
The former Casey Demon put some objectives in place last summer to give himself the best chance at on-field success.
“I spoke to Greg Stafford at the end of the year, and obviously I had a lot of shots last year, so I wanted to try to consolidate on them,” Fritsch said following Melbourne’s 33-point Qualifying Final victory.
“I went away and worked on a process of getting in my bubble and trying to put myself into game situations as much as possible.
“I was confident my technique would stand up, but I thought the more I put into it in my off-season, the more the rewards would come during the season.
“And I feel like I’m kicking a lot more goals than points at the moment which is nice.”
And that he is.
Throughout the home and away season, the 24-year-old kicked 47 goals at 70.8 percent, making the most of his opportunities to come equal seventh in the Coleman Medal.
But that form was no surprise, given the body of work Fritsch had behind him.
“I would’ve kicked a lot of goals over the break – I’d hate to know how many,” he said.
“I just went down to my local footy club, sometimes with other teammates, and took plenty of shots.
“It’s really hard because you want to put yourself in game-like situations.
“I feel like I did a lot of quantity, but quality as well.”
While the results on the scoreboard have been rewarding for the 188cm forward, conversion wasn’t the only area he was looking to tweak in his game.
“When I came into this year there were probably three clear focuses for me,” Fritsch said.
“The first one obviously being the goal kicking.
“Secondly, I wanted to become a young leader of the forward group and drive standards.
“I was coming into my fourth year, so I felt ready to take that responsibility.
“The third one was that I wanted to really work on the defensive side of my game, which will give me more opportunities on the offensive side as well.
“I feel like I’m doing them relatively well, and from a leadership point of view, it has kept me involved in the game even when I’m not getting the ball.”
Last weekend’s clash with the Lions was a good example of that.
Fritsch had just seven disposals – his equal-third lowest return for the season – but his impact was severe.
Kicking four goals at Adelaide Oval, in the minor premiers’ first final, Fritsch stood up on the big stage, enjoying every moment of the win.
“Obviously you want to play well every game that you play, but to do it when it counts is where everyone wants to do it,” he said.
“On Saturday night it was my turn, but next week it might be Tommy’s turn, or Browny’s turn.
“As long as I’m doing my bit for the team, I’ll be happy.”
Between Fritsch, Ben Brown, Luke Jackson and Tom McDonald, the Demons’ tall forward line is beginning to look dangerous.
And although the left footer did the bulk of the scoring last weekend, there isn’t too much responsibility on any individual down there.
“No one has to kick four or five goals,” Fritsch said.
“What they’re doing in the air is unbelievable and it’s bringing guys like Kozzy, Spargs and Nibbler into the game.
“When they clunk the odd few and kick a couple of goals it really helps, but we’re really putting a priority on marking the ball, or if not, just bringing the ball to ground.
“It’s held us in good stead for the majority of the year and it’ll really stand up in big games.”
Melbourne has another week to wait before that next test in the Preliminary Final, but come next Friday, the boys should be primed for their must-win match against the Cats or Giants.
“I guess it’s good for a bit of a freshen up, but I’m a bit of a footy lover so I’d love to play every week,” Fritsch said.
“We’ve earned the right to have a week off, so we’ll have a game-like training session on Friday and get ourselves right for next Friday.
“I’m really looking forward to it and can’t wait to play.”