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Astbury a Tiger on the rise

David Astbury had a promising start to his career in 2010, playing 17 games and looking assured at the top level. But the young Richmond defender wasn’t satisfied. The AFL Record’s CALLUM TWOMEY tracked Astbury over the pre-season as he worked to take his game to the next level.

David Astbury had a successful pre-season. He managed his body well enough to avoid injury, and progressively ticked off personal goals - he wanted to get bigger, faster and learn his craft as a defender - before round one of the season. His was a summer without glitch.

By monitoring Astbury’s pre-season, we were given an insight into how a typical summer campaign unfolds: it is tough, relentless and tightly managed, often to the minute.

Astbury was able to cope. Last year, he started his career as a forward, but by the end of the season had cemented a spot as a tall defender. His hands are strong, his skills are better than good and, most importantly, he’s smart.

That third quality is evident when we meet either in person, at the club or over lunch, or speak on the phone, to gauge his latest developments. Astbury, who turned just 20 last month and is studying for an engineering degree at Swinburne University, is careful to not get ahead of himself. He knows now the challenge is translating the work he did during pre-season by making an impact on the field.

Noticeably, the training has changed Astbury physically. I had caught up with him last August, but by December, the next time we met, his body shape had changed significantly.

The laid-back demeanour and the blond hair remain, with fringe inclined from left to right - a trait that earned him the nickname ‘Swoop’ at the club after teammate Brett Deledio noticed Astbury’s fringe swoops across his forehead - but he’s built up remarkably.

Coach Damien Hardwick says he is looking forward to seeing how Astbury copes as a key defender, and Astbury spent every day of the pre-season - 148 - working towards that aim. When he runs out against Carlton for the first match of the season in his first game in the No. 12 jumper, the rest of us will get a glimpse of how far he has progressed.

“I can’t wait,” he says.

Sixty-seven days after Astbury played his last game of 2010, he was back at Punt Road Oval at the first training session of the 2011 campaign. Football never stops, so they say, but for more than two months Astbury was able to reflect on his first season at AFL level.

Reflection at top-level sport, however, can be dangerous if not handled well. For Astbury, and the other first-to-third year Tigers, the next challenge awaited. He knew what he wanted - and needed - to do.

Astbury’s first month of training, from October 27 through to the end of November, was limited due to a hip arthroscopy, which meant his work on the track was restricted mainly to straight-line running.

“There was a fair bit of a volume I had to get into my legs before I could start training with the main group,” he says.

The workload is nevertheless strenuous. Astbury is at the club every day, and on Richmond’s main training days - Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays - he spends more than nine hours at the club.

Every day, bar Wednesdays, the players do weights, and on weekends cross-training, including swimming or bike riding, are instituted partly to help break the monotony.
With a focus on power-based running, strength, jumping and foot skills, Astbury is “pretty happy” with how his pre-season is going.

“Last year, my playing weight was about 85-86kg and at the moment I’m fluctuating between 91-92kg, so if I hang on to a lot of that weight and still move freely, I’ll be tracking well,” Astbury says when we meet at a St Kilda café.

Astbury’s November was also marked by a key moment on an individual level, when Tigers icon Matthew Richardson announced to a packed gymnasium at Richmond’s Punt Road headquarters that Astbury had been chosen to take over the No. 12 jumper Richardson wore until he retired at the end of 2009.

Humbled, Astbury told the crowd he has “an obligation now to represent the number as best I can”.

The month’s block of training ended overseas, with the club holding a five-day camp in Wellington, New Zealand. Players were split into six groups, doing daily challenges such as canoeing, cycling and even farming activities, something Astbury should have excelled at considering he grew up on a wheat farm in Tatyoon, a tiny country town in Victoria’s west.

“My group actually won that challenge,” he says with a laugh.

After the New Zealand trip, the first week of December was used to get the players back into the routine of training and, the following two weeks, Astbury says, “were the two biggest loading weeks of the pre-season so far”.

Through this period, the formula for the main training days is a 60-80-minute skills session followed by a 20-minute conditioning set. He manages to keep up with training, despite the hip setback.

“The biggest challenge was the mental battle of feeling I was falling behind being in the rehab group after the hip operation, but since I’ve come back, it’s been really pleasing,” he says.

Richmond uses its sessions with dual intentions: within its match simulation it embeds all its fitness work. No session is done without the game style as priority, and players spend most of December doing game-related drills. Emphasis is placed on efficient movement of the ball from one end of the ground to the other.

“On the flipside,” Astbury says, “when we haven’t got the ball, we’ve put a big focus on turning it over as early as we can.”

In setting his sights on becoming a key position defender, Astbury has been learning his craft by partnering Coleman medallist Jack Riewoldt.

“Jack went to Ireland and thought he was a bit behind when he got in the gym, so he asked me if we could pair up and we’ve done that,” he says.

“And when we’re doing marking, he’s always got pointers on how to manoeuvre your opponent or lose them in a contest.”

The players finish their football commitments on December 21, and after spending 2010 living with a host family in Coburg in Melbourne’s northern suburbs, Astbury heads back to Tatyoon to celebrate Christmas with his parents and three sisters. He spends several nights over the New Year period in Noosa.

He needs the break to recover from the tough two-week block, but still spends about 45 minutes each day keeping in shape.

Two months down, and Astbury has worked out a simple way of getting through the pain barrier: “I never look to the end of the session because I know it’s just got to finish at some point.”

Richmond returns from its break on January 5 with a set of time-trials, and though Astbury starts the day with an ear infection, he ranks among the best of the taller players.

He has improved his overall fitness and strength, in line with his aims at the start of the pre-season. In a live chat on, the Tigers’ elite performance manager Matt Hornsby says Astbury had put on more weight than any player at the club.

“He’s really improved his strength and size, with the ambition of becoming a key position player,” Hornsby says.

Astbury is pleased when the club officially lists him at 92kg, especially since his speed
hasn’t suffered.

“It was a big goal of mine to get above 90kg consistently, and putting on weight in my legs has helped me, but I don’t think I’ve lost anything as a result of the extra weight,” he says.

Astbury’s improvement is underlined in late January when he is asked to play a role in the club’s leadership group this year.

Although not an official member of the six-man team, captain Chris Newman requests Astbury sits in meetings after the youngster receives positive feedback from his peers.
“We did the voting and I sat outside the group of six after getting a few votes from the guys,” Astbury says.

“Newman said I’ll be able to sit in and partake in particular meetings and get involved with the group, so it’s something I’m really looking forward to.”

With the club scheduled to play the Aboriginal All-Stars in Darwin on February 5, Astbury says the last two weeks of January are the toughest of the pre-season campaign to date, but remaining enthusiastic about the season to come is easy.

“In those last two weeks, we spent more time than any stage of the pre-season on the track and had a lot of running sessions,” he says.

“The lead-up to Christmas is just a battle of getting through to the break, but once you get back to the club, you get yourself primed to play.”

Even though inclement weather leads to the All-Stars match being cancelled, Richmond
gets back into game mode in February.

During the NAB Cup and NAB Challenge series, training is structured with a focus on games, the sessions tapering off as matches approach.

Astbury continues his build-up to round one with an impressive first-round NAB Cup effort against Collingwood and Carlton.

He is particularly impressive against the Blues, when he picks up 12 touches in the 40-minute game. It’s something he wants to continue.

“Moving to the backline, I knew there were a lot of flaws in my defensive game that I needed to iron out, and that has been a big focus for me over the pre-season,” Astbury says.

“But now I’ve started to improve defensively, the coaches think I have the tools to play a more attacking role, so I’m hoping to get a lot more possessions this year. “I have to find a bit more of a balance.”

With an eye on fitness management, it’s rare players take part in all pre-season fixtures. Astbury plays in three of Richmond’s four hit-outs, having a well-earned rest for
the Port Adelaide contest in Alice Springs.

A unique aspect of Richmond’s pre-season is its head-to-head training with Hawthorn.
The clubs’ younger players squared off at the Hawks’ Waverley Park headquarters
in February.

Astbury says the session was more about fine-tuning plans than playing full-on practice matches.

“We did set-ups at stoppages and then they (the Hawks) tried theirs and then we’d
just play it out. The coaches gave us different scenarios, like what to do when we turn
the footy over in the back half and what to do to move the ball out, while they had
to try and shut us down,” Astbury says.

“It was about seeing how our plans held up against theirs.”
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