Darren Glass first led the West Coast Eagles in season 2008. He’s been handed the captain’s jersey again for the 2013 season and is looking forward to doing battle with visiting teams at Subiaco Oval’s, House of Pain. Darren concedes he has a few aches and pains of his own but sings the praises of the medical staff who help make those stratospheric high marks possible.’.

“The early morning walk to the bathroom can get a little bit creaky now and then but I’ve been pretty fortunate with injuries. The AFL works hard to monitor the pace of the game and the impact it has on players. It is tough on the body and it’s not unusual for a player to carry a few niggles through a season,” Darren said.

“A lot of older players end up with some sort of surgery at the end of the year but they’re often pretty minor like a clean-up of a knee. After my last hip operation I walked out of hospital the same day! Most of the Eagles players have the surgery done here in Perth. Dr Peter Campbell has done both my shoulders and Dr Peter Annear did my knee and groin operations.”

Medical support for AFL players isn’t confined to the operating theatre. On match day there’s a plethora of specialists both on the boundary line and in the treatment rooms.

“There are a couple of team doctors and Rod Moore and Gerard Taylor share that role at the moment. We have quite a big medical contingent to keep us on the field on game day and that’s everything from running repairs to pain-killing jabs. That doesn’t happen too often and the player always has the final say. The first consideration is always the long-term health of the individual.”

“Very often a player will build up a great relationship with a particular doctor and I’ve known Rod and Gerard my entire career. We’ve always had a really good rapport between the players and medical staff at the Eagles.”

“Injuries are a part of football and when they happen you generally move on pretty quickly. You’re usually into rehab straight away and most players don’t get too disheartened. Having said that, Anthony Morabito from the Dockers is on his third knee reconstruction and hopefully it won’t be career ending. Players are resilient and we all know that if you want a long career in the AFL you have to push through injuries.”

Darren-Glass-player-race“Playing AFL is what I’ve wanted to do ever since I was a young footballer in Northam!” 

Darren turns 32 in May and is approaching the twilight of his professional career.

“My body is holding together really well at the moment. Obviously as you get a bit older it does get trickier but you’re more attuned to what your body can do. When you first arrive at the Eagles, and this applies to young immature players and those who’ve had years of AFL experience, they assess and monitor every player. The club structures the training loads so that when you’re in your mid-20s you do a lot of hard work but when you get old like me they look after you.”

Playing in the specialist position as a backline defender, Darren’s job is to nullify his attacking opponents. Other positions on the field have more pressing concerns.

“The ruckmen were getting more PCL [Posterior Cruciate Ligament] injuries compared with other players. The AFL brought in the centre-circle so that they didn’t generate so much force when they contested the ball. Those sort of injuries have dropped away.”

And that old chestnut about Subiaco Oval being a particularly hard playing surface? Paterson’s Stadium (Subiaco Oval) management told Medical Forum that it’s one of the most highly utilised stadiums in Australia and that the AFL Players Association rates it highly. In 2012 the hard-working centre square, after a battering by Aussie Rules, both Rugby codes, Soccer and the odd concert, was replaced twice. Darren Glass has spent more time on it than most.

“Subiaco is one of the harder grounds in the AFL but I’m not sure that translates into more injuries necessarily. We train on it all the time and love playing on the ground.”

Drugs and sport is a hot topic at the moment with an ongoing Australian Crime Commission investigation into organised networks infiltrating entire clubs and supplying banned substances. In a recent interview with The West Australian both Darren Glass and Andrew Embley reaffirmed their conviction that the club adheres to strict guidelines regarding supplements. So, could there be a Lance Armstrong flying under the radar in the AFL?

“We’re tested frequently and randomly under two different doping codes. We come under the World Doping Agency for performance enhancing (PE) drugs and the players have also agreed to an illicit drugs policy.”

Darren said he’d be shocked if drug-taking in the AFL was widespread.

Darren-Glass-deep“A lot of older players end up with some sort of surgery at the end of the year.”

Technology has made a significant impact on the modern game with everything from ice vests, cooling tanks to hyperbaric chambers.

“It’s certainly a big part of the game now and one of the real benefits is the use of GPS. We wear the monitors during games and training to track our work-rate and they get so much data out of them. The training staff can then adjust training regimes and game time. It’s all about looking after a player’s body which is one of the keys to long career.”

In elite sport mental preparation is just as important as physical conditioning and strength training.

“Nerves are a big part the game. I think the worst games I’ve played have been when I wasn’t feeling a bit twitchy. It does start to build up getting towards a big game like a final and we all have our little routines, such as eating the same meal at a particular time. I’ve got a young family now so that means I don’t have too much time to think about the game until I get to the ground.”

“Playing AFL is what I’ve wanted to do ever since I was a young footballer in Northam. It’s been a great career choice and a wonderful occupation.”

ED: The West Coast Eagles meet the Fremantle Dockers in the season opening match at Patersons Stadium on Saturday, March 23.