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Crameri running on instinct

Callum Twomey  March 26, 2013 9:30 AM

Can't catch Crameri The best of Stewart Crameri
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Stewart Crameri is ready to take his game and the Bombers to the next level

IT TOOK a replay for Stewart Crameri to realise what he had done and how he had done it.

In Essendon's round-13 win over Fremantle last year, Crameri got the ball as it spilled out of a scrimmage in the Bombers' defensive half of Patersons Stadium. He handballed it to teammate Leroy Jetta, created some space for himself, and then Jetta gave it back to him in the middle of the ground.

Then Crameri ran. And ran and ran.

He looked over his shoulder a few times to check Luke McPharlin wasn't going to catch him, but with nobody in front of him, he bounced three times and kicked one of the goals of the season.

"The game is played within a quarter of the ground now, so when those opportunities [in space] come up you take them in both hands. I was lucky enough to receive a handball and found myself the only bloke from my spot to the goals," Crameri told AFL.com.au.

"So naturally I just started sprinting and bouncing the ball. I didn't really think of it much and then at the end of the game everyone started talking about it. Then I thought 'I better see a replay' and I actually couldn't believe I did it."

He shouldn't have been so surprised. The moment captured several of Crameri's most pronounced football traits: speed, goal sense, and the ability to do something few others can.

"It was a natural instinct," Crameri said. "You see the good players that when they do play on instincts, like Buddy Franklin, you play a lot better. You can do those things that seem unnatural and superhuman."

Crameri is intent on doing more of those things more often this season.

His first full season for the Bombers, in 2011, ended with a shoulder reconstruction that forced him to miss the club's elimination final against Carlton.

Last year, he booted 23 goals in the first nine games but could manage only another nine for the year as injuries took their toll.

It started against the Brisbane Lions in round six, when he suffered a bad case of bone bruising to his leg. That stuck with him for almost three months, with Crameri using painkillers before each game just to get through. He didn't feel limited on game-day but was training in pain, which had a flow-on effect.

"My workload was diminishing a bit and I was fading away. Towards the middle of the season I couldn't play a full game," he said.

It was no coincidence the Bombers struggled with Crameri hurt. In the nine games Crameri kicked multiple goals, Essendon won eight.

In the five games he went goalless, it lost four. Champion Data statistics show he was the No.1 forward target through the year, although he's not sure if that will remain the case in 2013.

In Friday night's win over Adelaide, Crameri snapped an early goal before being substituted out of the contest in the third term with a sore hip. But he still played a role as a marking option, along with Michael Hurley and Paddy Ryder.

The three are still finding some rhythm in working together.

Injuries to each meant they struggled for continuity last year, but Crameri sees some similarities between Essendon's group and the famous trio of star basketballers at NBA side the Miami Heat.

"It seems like when two guys are up and about another might be injured. It's just about adjusting. I make a reference to the Miami team in the NBA. It took a while for the three big players (Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh) to play together [there]," he said.

"Over pre-season we worked a hell of a lot together and I think it will be coming together soon. We will show the results."

Making the most of their opportunities is one of the first steps. Last year Crameri converted his shots at just 52 per cent. Over time he aims to get his conversion rate up to 70 per cent or so. He has a more solid routine, and has tweaked his motion slightly.

"If you've seen Nick Riewoldt over the last few years how he's trying to emphasise kicking over the ball … It's a similar thing but not as far-fetched as what he was doing, and just finding an end point and keeping it simple," he said.

Crameri turns 25 this year, and has been on Essendon's list since the end of 2009 (when he was drafted as a rookie.) But because of his later and unique passage to the top level, there is still a sense of him being fresh to it.

At first when he started lining up for the seniors it took him time to work out how his teammates played, and where he fitted in. Early on he felt he struggled working and playing towards the coaches' game plans, but as he's matured as a player it has come easier.

The challenges continue, they're just different. There's the investigations into Essendon's supplement use in 2012, which Crameri thinks won't distract the players during the year – a view that was supported by the club's important win over Adelaide last week.

And then there are the issues that come with being better known.

Opponents have spent more time analysing how to stop him, but he's been watching them, too, to make sure his improvement continues.

It's not a task exclusive to Crameri at the club. He's one of a bunch of Bombers who are on the cusp of taking their performances up a notch this season, something evident in the significant round one win over the Crows.

"It showed at the start of last season how far we can go," Crameri said.

"Teams might come out and they'd be scared of us the way we were attacking the ball. And in the second half of the year we were coming out and couldn't do much. Hopefully if we can play like that for 22 games this season it's going to be good."

Stewart Crameri is a forward in NAB AFL Fantasy. He averaged 66.3 points a game in 2012. Register your team at AFL Fantasy Hub

Follow AFL website reporter Callum Twomey on Twitter at @AFL_CalTwomey.