Elliott Kavanagh wants to cement his place in the Dons' senior side
My goal for the season is to run around with the best and be out there playing AFL footy
ELLIOTT Kavanagh enters his second AFL season with a few less questions and a lot more answers than he had this time a year ago.
The 19-year-old Essendon midfielder, who played one game in 2012, has come to terms with the weekly routines of training, is more accustomed to the Bombers' game plan, has confidence in his body, and has a better sense of where he wants to be as a player.
He also has a clearer idea of how to get there, a process he intends to speed up this year as he sets himself to hold down a senior position in Essendon's midfield after a full pre-season.
"Everyone looks to be able to play in the seniors and be at that standard and I think that this year I can give it a red hot crack with the pre-season I've had," Kavanagh told AFL.com.au.
"My goal for the season is to run around with the best and be out there playing AFL footy for as many games as I can. And if I am playing in the VFL, [I want] to put some quality efforts in every time and not let the standard drop."
Kavanagh arrived at Essendon as a first-round draft pick in 2011 aiming to get a taste of senior footy in his first season. But after a serious hamstring tendon injury in his draft year, the club carefully managed the classy and composed on-baller in 2012.
He did most sessions during the week but at a lower workload than his teammates. When he pulled up sore the Bombers would take the conservative approach, allowing him to overcome any issues.
He played in the first NAB Cup game last year against West Coast at Patersons Stadium, which itself included a number of new challenges, like travelling interstate, staying overnight, and being out of his comfort zone.
"It was a bit different for me," Kavanagh says. "But after that it was a pretty good experience on how to prepare, and do everything myself."
It gave him a taste of the AFL and of its demands, but it was a while before Kavanagh got another.
Some leg soreness early in the season interrupted his VFL season for a couple of weeks, and after that he gradually rose to the level required. A 28-disposal game for Bendigo Gold against Sandringham, in which his run, skill and smarts were on show, preceded his AFL debut against Hawthorn in round 18.
There Kavanagh found 13 disposals in Essendon's 94-point loss, but showed signs he could match it at the level, zipping around packs and being calm in possession.
"It was good to learn off them and see what it's like playing against a harder team," Kavanagh said. "I was happy with my performance."
Kavanagh was out of the team the next week, but the game has provided him a reference point.
He has watched a lot of teammates Jobe Watson, David Zaharakis and Jake Melksham since then and is trying to reach their level of strength, a process that began when he arrived at Essendon weighing about 78kg.
He's at 80kg now, but is stronger in the torso and wants to add a couple more kilos in the future.
Kavanagh is also determined to be louder around the club this year, another natural step in his development as he strives to make his second season a breakout one.
"Some players are quieter than others, which is probably expected, but once you're out on the ground you really have to talk and tell people what to do," he said.
"There's always things you need to learn. As a junior, you think you know everything but there's always things you don't know.
"Where you come from your local club, you're probably the best there and you think people are going to work around you, but when you get here you're just trying to work together. Everybody goes about it in different ways, but you've just got to try to create good habits."
Follow AFL website reporter Callum Twomey on Twitter at @AFL_CalTwomey.