Daniel Talia has turned his injury layoff into a positive, using the enforced break to address a key area for improvement in his game.
Talia, 21, enjoyed a breakout season in 2012. The reliable defender established himself as an important pillar in the Crows backline, playing all 22 minor round matches. He routinely stood the opposition’s best forwards and conceded an average of only one goal per game.
Talia was recognised for an individually brilliant year, receiving the AFL’s NAB Rising Star award.
However, his season came to an abrupt end only a few days after accepting the Ron Evans Medal when he fractured his forearm in a collision with Sydney forward Mitch Morton late in Adelaide’s Qualifying Final loss to the Swans.
Surgeons used a large plate and nine pins to mend his broken arm. He was told the injury would take three months to heal, but still held out faint hope of making a miraculous return for the Grand Final should the Crows progress.
For a few moments in the Preliminary Final it appeared his ambitious plan might be put to the test but, like every other Adelaide fan, Talia’s heart sank when the Hawks held on to win by five points.
“I was stoked after the Freo game, but it was pretty upsetting watching the prelim final,” Talia said.
“Getting so close, watching the boys lose like that … and not being out there with them really hurt.
“I had a reasonable year from a personal point of view. It was disappointing the way it ended, but I couldn’t control that.”
As his teammates jetted off around the globe for a well-earned post-season break, Talia – regarded as one of the most professional players to ever step foot in West Lakes – started his rehabilitation. In the early mornings, Talia’s lone figure could be seen running laps around Max Basheer Reserve.
One morning, general manager of football operations Phil Harper paused to watch Talia sweat it out, “He doesn’t even have to be here … but he’s out there running everyday” he said.
Talia’s only real getaway was a one-week trip to Port Douglas immediately after surgery in September.
“I had three or four weeks off and then started getting back into some light running. I couldn’t do much strength work, so I made it a focus to improve my fitness,” Talia said.
“I wanted to improve my aerobic capacity this pre-season anyway because I didn’t get to do much of that last year coming off an Achilles injury.
“I came into the Club a fair bit while the boys were on break. Most days, I was out running by myself but sometimes there were other blokes around, which helped.
“I’m already ahead of where I was at the end of last pre-season. Hopefully, I can keep improving and that running will hold me in good stead come next year.”
Talia recently passed the 12-week mark in his rehabilitation. The former first-round draft pick is joining in most training sessions and will slowly build his upper-body strength in the coming months.
“I’m doing all the running and skills work. I just can’t receive any direct contact because if it hits the exact spot where the bone was broken I might re-injure it,” he said.
“I’m training with a pretty big arm guard. The boys are giving me a hard time about it. I don’t know if I’ll have to wear it during the year. I hope not because it’s pretty thick and ugly. I’m not doing any boxing or wrestling yet, which I’m actually kind of happy about because the boys come out of those sessions absolutely stuffed and dripping in sweat.
“The scar has healed well and I’m starting to get my strength back, so it’s feeling pretty good for where it’s at.”
A student of the game with only 32 games of experience, Talia has vowed to improve on his impressive 2012 season.
“This year was about securing my place in the team. Now that I’ve done that, I want to step up again. I don’t want to stay at the same level as this year – I want to get better,” he said.
“I need to develop my leadership while continuing to learn from Dasher (defensive coach Darren Milburn) and Ben Rutten. Losing Michael Doughty (retirement) is massive. He was such a good bloke to have around the club and a great character. He showed a lot of leadership down back.
“Now guys like myself, Sam Shaw and Brodie Smith are going to have to step up in that area because Ben Rutten and Brent Reilly are the only two really experienced players in defence. We’re all going to have to do our bit.”
Part of Talia’s leadership development will be the gradual transition from apprentice to mentor.
Draftee Sam Siggins has already identified Talia as the player he wants to learn from as he finds his feet at AFL level.
“It was good hearing that from Sammy because that’s what I was saying the last few pre-seasons - that I wanted to learn as much as I could from Ben Rutten and also Phil Davis when he was here,” Talia said.
“Sam is a smart guy. He’s come in and is trying to get better as quickly as he can. It still feels like my first year in some ways even though it’s my fourth but it will be good working with him and I’m sure we’ll both learn from the more experienced guys in the team.”