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Finals disappointment drives Lever

Katrina Gill  December 6, 2015 3:00 PM

Pre-Season Update: Jake Lever Channel Crow speaks with Jake Lever about the first week of pre-season 2016.
I would’ve given those 12 games back just to play in our two finals.

Promising defender Jake Lever says the disappointment of missing out on last year’s finals series will help drive him this pre-season.

Lever, 19, exceeded all expectations in his first year at Adelaide. Recruited with pick No.14 in the 2014 National Draft, the former Calder Cannon was eased into his first AFL pre-season after sitting out his entire draft year with a knee injury.

The competitive backman made his long-awaited return from injury in a SANFL trial game in April and, after only four more appearances at State League level, forced his way into Adelaide’s AFL side.

An ankle complaint saw the Rising Star nominee miss three matches mid-season, but he returned to play eight of the next nine games. Unfortunately, Lever’s debut AFL season ended there.

After a quiet day in a disappointing overall team performance against Geelong in Round 23, Lever was squeezed out of the side to play the Western Bulldogs in the Elimination Final.

His heartbreaking omission was largely due to match-ups in the undersized Dogs forward line, but a strong display by his replacement, Kyle Cheney, kept Lever on the sidelines again the next week.

“To break into the side pretty early on in the year was a great achievement for me,” Lever said.

“To stay in the side for a while and play 12 games was fantastic … but I didn’t play finals footy. I would’ve given those 12 games back just to play in our two finals.”

Instead of sulking, the teenager showed maturity and leadership beyond his years. He travelled with the team to both games, helping the players to warm-up in the rooms and offering encouragement.

“When I found out (I wasn’t playing) I was obviously really disappointed, but we were going into a finals game so I couldn’t be negative around the boys,” Lever said.

“I just tried to get around everyone. I was still an emergency, so I flew over to Melbourne with the team. The first final was really upbeat and it was just a fantastic atmosphere.

“That disappointment gives me a driving force for this pre-season. I’m just looking forward to next year. Hopefully, I can continue to grow and, as a team, we can play finals footy again.”

Lever followed his training program to the letter over the break and is already seeing the results.

The 194cm defender has added a couple of kilograms to his frame and finished sixth overall in Adelaide’s recent two-kilometre time trial.

“I had a really good off-season program and did everything I could,” he said.

“Last year, I didn’t really do much (training) in my first month or so at the Club and I was getting a bit itchy, so it was good to come back on Monday and be able to do everything.

“After nine weeks of holidays, it was really enjoyable to come back and see all of the boys again and start off next season on a positive note.”

Professional and meticulous in his preparation, Lever has a better understanding of how to approach his second pre-season.

“I’ve got a really good base now from last pre-season and also the offseason,” he said.

“The most important thing for me this pre-season is just to stay out on the track with the boys, learn the new game plan and our new style of play. (I’ve learned) to be able to push myself to the limit, but not push myself over it.

“I think that’s a really important point for me this year.”

Lever and the Crows defensive group will work with three new coaches in 2016 – Senior Coach Don Pyke, Assistant Coach James Podsiadly and Development Coach Paul Thomas.

Lever said the transition had been smooth so far.

“Just from the first week and early impressions, Don’s a really good teacher,” he said.

“Obviously, we got to know ‘Pods’ as a player over the last year or two and it’s been good for him to transition into being a coach. During last pre-season, I actually played on Pods so it’s definitely different with him yelling at me from the sidelines, down our (defensive) end now.

“I think he brings a whole new element to us defenders, being able to tell us what forwards think.”

Lever was rewarded with a contract extension during the year, tying him to the Club until at least the end of 2017. He and partner Jess have settled into life in Adelaide.

“When I first moved over, the Club was fantastic (in providing) that support base,” he said.

“From the first year, I just loved living in Adelaide. It’s nice and relaxing and is sort of like my hometown in Romsey, everyone knows everyone. The longer I’ve been here, the more I’m liking it.

“I actually moved house the other day, into a bigger house with a backyard so I’m enjoying watering the lawn at the moment!”