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Longer's wake-up call

Jennifer Phelan  April 17, 2015 12:02 PM

Billy Longer is St Kilda's number one ruckman.

Billy Longer is St Kilda's number one ruckman.

Everyone else was coming back and running personal bests and I was behind.

BILLY Longer says his St Kilda teammates helped deliver the wake-up call he needed after arriving unfit for pre-season training late last year.

The 21-year-old, who is currently keeping Tom Hickey out of the team after blistering form against Gold Coast on Saturday night, returned from a US holiday having not maintained his fitness over the break.

After visiting Cancun with some of his teammates and Mississippi, he came back to Australia but didn't pick up his off-season program to the extent he should have.

The result saw him banished from training with his teammates for a few weeks when pre-season resumed in early November, after his time trial results showed he had fallen behind.   

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"[The holiday] was great fun but I guess when I came back and it was time to knuckle down I was still in a bit of holiday mode," Longer told AFL.com.au this week.

"I thought I'd done the work but you don't just have to go through the motions I suppose, you need to do it with intensity and I guess that's where I was lacking in the off-season, with diet and all that as well.

"It was a bit of a wake-up call when everyone else was coming back and running personal bests and I was behind."

Longer said "everyone at the club" helped get him back on track.

His teammates delivered the prod he needed, and the staff and coaches devised a program to boost his fitness back to where it should have been. 

First, he trained on his own, focusing on a personalised regime.

Then, he started to join in with his teammates but was still doing extra sessions in the lead up to Christmas.

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The former Brisbane Lion maintains he's learnt his lesson and says he's grateful for the Saints' support in helping him recover from the mistake.

"The club's been good. They've been behind me and put a lot of work into getting me into as good shape as they can," he said.

"When someone comes back a little bit behind, everyone jumps on board to try and help – players and staff.

"They want you to be the best you can and if they think there's any way they can help, they'll definitely let you know.

"That meant a couple of extra sessions but I'm really thankful because I guess I needed it.

"You've got to learn from your mistakes and that's something I'll definitely take on board.

"I'm feeling a lot fitter now and it's good."

After struggling to hold a spot in the senior side early last season after crossing from the Lions, Longer grew into the No.1 ruck role after Hickey broke down with knee tendinitis.

The opportunity to be the Saints' main man in the second half of last season helped him gain the confidence he needed to be able to stand up with extra responsibility.

Now, he's keeping Hickey out of the side on his own accord, which is something he's proud of after his reality check over summer.

"It's a bit of a pat on the back for the hard work we've done," he said.

"[Hickey] is very much on my heels because he's playing some really good footy in the VFL so it's making me try and consistently play good football for us and what we need, because if not, he'll be able to take that without a blink.

"It's keeping us both very accountable."

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His friendship with Hickey is strong, despite the challenges of them playing together with forward Josh Bruce the current preferred back-up ruck option.

Longer hopes they'll be able to play together at some stage but is mindful of his need to improve his forward craft to make them a viable pairing.

At the moment, he's mainly focusing on embracing the opportunity given to him after deciding to leave the Lions in search of more senior opportunities.

"I came home with intentions of going to a club where I had a bit more opportunity," he said.

"I just wanted to go to a club where I had a bit more chance to take the No.1 role or at least share a dual ruck role, if that's what happens with 'Hick'.

"We both really want that … it's just a bit difficult with structures and all the stuff that goes on behind the scenes with the coaches.

"I guess we'll just try and find a way to make that work."

After 39 hit-outs last week against the Suns, Longer feels like he's in good touch and his fitness is back where it needs to be.

"I've been pretty lucky," he said.

"Last year gave me a bit of experience but this year I've been able to string together a bit of form and get my confidence up a bit more so it's been better to play some more footy as well."