Mitch O’Donnell: Back In Action

The late Yogi Berra, one of the New York Yankees’ most favourite sons, was as revered for his work behind home plate in thirteen World Series wins for the Bronx Bombers as he was for his ability to mangle a metaphor or well-known phrase.

In amongst opining that ninety-percent of the game he played and coached all his life was mental and the other half physical, he also offered the insightfully obvious, “you can observe a lot by watching,” and once mused that “nobody” went to a popular restaurant any more because it was “too crowded.”

As all individuals do, he had his own way with words.

Of an inescapably familiar situation the man born Lawrence Peter Berra, after whom the cartoon bear was named, remarked “it’s like deja vu all over again…”

We’ve all had the sensation: the recall of a memory you can’t quite place and a weird, cerebral rush of ‘have I been here before?’

Young Hawk Mitch O’Donnell is spared the confusion for his case of deja vu, having endured and just about overcome his second extended stint on the sidelines in as many seasons.

During his debut season in 2013, O’Donnell made a positive early impression on his teammates and coaches, only narrowly missing out on a place in that season’s premiership side.

Throughout 2014 and 2015 the contested bull’s game continued to develop, with his broad frame perfect for the rigours of modern footy. Strong over the ball, clean in the clinches and with an appetite for hard work, the boy from the Yarra Valley via the Eastern Ranges had found his groove.

Then, in late 2015, it happened. ACL. Three letters that need no explanation or embellishment.

He made his comeback in late 2016 and headed into the 2017 preseason with renewed enthusiasm for the year to come.

Then, in February, another setback.

“I ride a fair bit,” O’Donnell begins, describing his dirt biking.

“I’ve had millions of crashes, but never had a bad injury from riding before, just this time I’ve come off and landed the wrong way.”

The good news? The knee was fine. His shoulder? Less so, it’d need surgery and significant recuperation.

To say it’s been frustrating is an understatement. Beginning his season in mid-July wasn’t what O’Donnell had in mind; he’s done the belated start before and once is more than enough.

“Obviously the first couple weeks are pretty frustrating. You feel like you’re missing out on everything.

“But seeing the boys training, you want to get into the gym and start the rehab – you want to do everything you can get out there with them.”

Having been through a serious rehab once already, and with another ahead of him, O’Donnell looked back to find some key learnings ahead of another trying experience.

“I knew last time that the knee was a twelve month recovery, but I got back in nine-ten months.

“I knew I could get back early again. If I did everything right I could back back sooner than expected.”

With that attitude its no surprise O’Donnell was back in full training three months after surgery, playing his first game of the year just five weeks after that.

“I only had a small taste of footy at the end of 2016, then because of the injury I missed all the preseason games this year.

“I’d done all the training in the back end of last year and the early part of this year. I wasn’t too concerned about missing the training, but rather playing footy. It had been so long.

For someone who wants to play footy, six games in just shy of two years isn’t going to cut it.

“I felt my fitness was good. I felt like I got through the game alright,” O’Donnell says, talking of this past Sunday’s Development League hit out against the Northern Blues.

“I was just excited to be back, running around playing footy again.

“I wasn’t too concerned with how well I played, I just wanted to try and do my role, show a little leadership and help where I could.”

Another figure encouraged by his return is Senior Coach Chris Newman.

“I spoke to ‘Newy’ before the game and asked what he wanted to see from me.

“He said he was just excited to see me back playing and he didn’t want me to go out there and focus on getting back into the ones.

“He wanted me to play my game and thats how I’ll get back in the seniors – and enjoy footy.”

The sense of excitement is a two-way street, with O’Donnell praising the attitude and edge Newman has brought to the side in his first season at the helm.

“He’s massive on brotherhood, camaraderie and unity – it’s something thats always been a part of the club, but he’s focused on it a lot this year.

“Even the other week against Williamstown, we didn’t get the result, but in the review that was a ramped up.”

With finals just around the corner O’Donnell’s return to action comes at an opportune time for player, team and coach.

For his part, the 23-year-old midfielder is relishing the chance to be a senior member of the new-look Hawks’ senior side.

“We’ve had a big turnover in the last few years.

“I was pretty close with a lot of the core guys that left last year, so it was a bit of a wake up call that I was one of the next potential leaders of the club.”

As for the on-field success, he’s champing at the bit to be involved.

“What the changes have done is brought good competition within the club, especially from the bottom, with guys fighting for spots in the senior side.

“I thought we might struggle early on with the turnover, but these young guys we’ve picked up have been really good.

“Guys like Duce (Vincent Adduci), Nelson (Lane) have stood out, and in a few of the games we maybe shouldn’t have won, it’s been Box Hill boys standing up and putting in dominant performances.”

So with the rehab done and the lonely work in the gym all behind him, what are his aims for the rest of 2017?

“My plan is to try get back in the seniors as soon as possible, then try to get as many senior games before finals, then hopefully play finals with the senior side.”

It’s deja vu all over again.

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