Western Bulldogs forward Mitch Hannan says the pain of grand final defeat still lingers and has warned rivals star forward Aaron Naughton is only “scratching the surface” of his potential.
Hannan may have felt more anguish than his teammates after losing last season’s play-off for he was a former Demon, and remains good friends with many of his one-time teammates.
He recalled the emotional pain he felt while recovering from postseason shoulder surgery, and said that still lingered just days away from Wednesday’s grand-final rematch to open the new season.
“It still hurts a little bit, I would say. Aside from bringing joy to our family and friends, that is, ultimately, the reason we play the game is for the success,” Hannan said.
“And it’s hard to win in this day and age with so many teams in the competition, so many variables. To get so close, it does sting a little bit but very quickly, your mind shifts when you start playing games again because it’s a new ball game.”
Hannan, a medium-sized forward who played 17 games in his first season at the Whitten Oval, had “clean-out” surgery on his shoulder but has had no issues through the pre-season practice matches.
“We are looking to make amends in the season coming up,” he said.
“For me, it was the first time that I have ever been that deep in finals. For a handful of guys here, they tasted that ultimate success four or five years ago. So, it definitely hurts and you mull on it, especially when you are sitting back after some shoulder on the couch, thinking about what could have been.
“But, at the end of the day, Melbourne were really good on that day and they, obviously, ultimately were premiers. I am still fortunate enough to be able to go again this year and have a good crack at it.”
For the Bulldogs to do that, they will need the high-flying, pack-marking Naughton to again be a significant presence. The left-footer was second in the league for contested marks, fourth for marks inside 50 and booted 47 goals (one behind a team-high from Josh Bruce) last year, but the latter will miss a significant portion of this season because of a knee injury.
The development of Naughton, 22, was shown in his inclusion in the leadership group.
“He is a seriously talented man. I am surprised at how young he is and how much of an impact he is already having, especially on field,” Hannan said.
“He is, obviously, still maturing as a man still, and that’s one of those growth areas I am talking about where we can get better as a team. He is so young. The world is his oyster, especially on the footy field.
“Just the way he attacks the ball, he is just so powerful in terms of being able to spring for a mark and, if he doesn’t mark it … he is just as agile on the ground. He is a handful for any serious defender out there and he is only scratching the surface I feel.”
There has been much made of the growing rivalry, even dislike, between the Bulldogs and Demons, sparked after the Demons linked arms and sang Freed from Desire in the middle of Optus Stadium in Perth as they celebrated a breakthrough flag.
This ill-feeling was exacerbated days later when the Demons and Bulldogs clashed verbally at a Perth nightclub.
“I think it’s a bit overblown. They are a very good team, likewise we are,” Hannan said of the rivalry and of the nightclub incident.
“There are lots of things that get talked about behind the scenes but I wouldn’t say there are any great grudges there. There are two teams at the peak of their powers at the moment, striving for success.”