IT IS NO SECRET Tom McDonald’s career was on the ropes at the end of 2020.
His name was on the trade table, with no suitors coming his way.
The key forward returned to Melbourne for the most important pre-season of his life, and with one last chance to impress, something had to change.
“We talked about it as a footy club for a while, that I’d be looking for an opportunity elsewhere,” McDonald told Melbourne Media.
“It didn’t come up, so once it got to that point, I was just ready to go back to pre-season.”
But for the 28-year-old, it was his block of training prior to returning to the club in December which set him up for success.
Hiring a personal trainer with a focus on transforming his body, McDonald put in the work which ultimately paid dividends.
“I really wanted to focus on some almost NFL-like agility stuff,” he said.
“A little bit of tennis movement, that sort of stuff that typically you don’t do as a football player.
“It was just a good change up – a change of pace that made it a bit more exciting to go train in your off-season.”
That new-look fitness program, accompanied by a modified diet, left McDonald feeling fresher than ever come day one of the pre-season.
“I’ve always had this principle in mind where I eat a heap of protein,” he said.
“I’ll have vegetables now and then, but I don’t see it as a core part of my diet.
“I probably typically go through three-to-four kilograms of steak in a week and maybe a kilogram or two of chicken and fish.
“I just eat until I’ve had enough and that’s worked well – I’ve been at the lowest body fat I’ve ever been at.”
A reinvigorated McDonald impressed his coaches and teammates upon return to Casey Fields, with murmurs that the 194cm forward may be in the selection mix come Round 1.
And with injuries to Ben Brown and Sam Weideman, his opportunity quickly came at the top level; one that he took with both hands.
“It’s been a more positive turnaround this year,” McDonald said.
“I wasn’t playing senior footy last year at the end of the season and thought it wasn’t going the way I wanted, so this year is going much more positive for the whole team.
In an unexpected twist, largely due to McDonald’s form, Melbourne now has options aplenty inside 50, putting pressure on players to perform, week in, week out.
“[It’s] very healthy because you know you’ve got to play well or your spot’s in jeopardy,” he said.
“And it’s probably true in every position on the ground at the moment.
“It honestly sucks for guys who are missing out – they want to be playing, but I guess the idea is to take your opportunity when it comes.”
McDonald has done just that in 2021 with 13 goals from his eight games, while chalking up 139 disposals – 62 more touches than he had in nine outings last season.
He has been a crucial player in the Demons’ win streak, but it’s the effort across the board holding the side in good stead.
“I think this year we’re playing a more consistent brand of footy,” he said.
“Whether or not we deserve to be 8-0, I think we haven’t had that let down of a game, or period of a quarter or half, where it’s been really, really poor.
“I don’t think anyone’s every going to go undefeated all year, all the way through to the Grand Final.
“So there’ll be a loss at some stage, but how do we handle that, how do we just get back on the job and hopefully win the next week, whenever that comes.”