Leo Connolly’s last-minute debut earlier this year is the perfection reflection of his two seasons at the elite level: as a new player coming in, he’s yet to experience “normal”.

Successive campaigns interrupted by COVID-19 – inclusive of a 100-day stint in Noosa during his debut season – have been far from the norm for the surefooted half-back, who earned his shot in the senior side under extraordinary circumstances.

Now, Connolly is ready to embrace some semblance of normality heading into his third pre-season.

“Coming into the system and then with everything turning pear-shaped in the world, it’s sort of what I thought was normal. I don’t think I’ve had a fully ‘normal’ season yet,” Connolly told saints.com.au.

“Certainly over the last few weeks, I’ve been checking the calendar for the start of pre-season. I’ve just been so keen to get back and stuck into training.

“I think it’ll be good to get into the swing of how it all used to be and get cracking into it again.”

St Kilda’s first-to-four-year players commenced its official pre-season late last month, with co-captain Jack Steele, Zak Jones and Jade Gresham among the more senior faces joining the group ahead of schedule.

There’s been no easing into it for the young brigade, however.

“The standards have been set very, very early. It’s going to be a tough pre-season, but it’ll be good,” Connolly said.

“There’ll be a lot of cross-training sessions and we’ll be pretty sore for some days, but I think it’ll be for good benefit and a good lead-in for the start of the season.

“That’s come as a collective, really: from Ratts (Brett Ratten), from line coaches, from high performance staff… just all across the board. Standards are going to be lifted big time and I think everyone’s here to live up to that and learn from the mistakes we had last year.”

Connolly was among a number of St Kilda youngsters to get their foot in the door during Season 2021, lining up for seven consecutive matches following his surprise debut in Round 15. A concussion issue late in the year ultimately brought his campaign to a close.

His place at half-back is again set to be a hotly contested heading into 2022, particularly with Jarryn Geary and Ben Paton due to return from long-term injury.

“They’re two very good players. If I want to be picked in front of them, it’s going to be tough,” Connolly said.

I really want to try and cement a spot in the back-six, or wherever they want to play me, really. I’m willing to work hard enough to get there and try and put my name out.

- Leo Connolly

“I think it shows that the coaches are confident in us younger players to come in and play their role. When we did come in and play (last year), I feel we did that well and showed a lot of promise.

“It was good to see a lot of us get a crack and do something when we got in. That’s the fuel for me this year. It sort of gives me confidence to know the coaches rated myself and other younger players.

“There’s certainly a lot of talent between the one-to-four year players, and I think there’s no reason as to why there can’t be a lot of us in the best 22.”