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Forced wait has paid off for new Demon

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Michael Hibberd has settled into life as a Demon - ${keywords}
Michael Hibberd has settled into life as a Demon
Having a year off made me realise that I love footy and I really want to give it a bit more
Michael Hibberd

MICHAEL Hibberd was unimpressed when Melbourne's fitness staff decided he would miss the first month of the season due to an Achilles flare up, but the star defender believes the patient build-up has been the key factor behind his career-best season.

Since coming into the side in round five, Hibberd has proven to be one of the recruits of the season after being traded from Essendon in exchange for a 2016 second-round draft selection, and a swap of late picks last year.

"I wanted to play a bit quicker but the fitness staff were a bit standoffish in making me wait. I pushed them and they really held me back," Hibberd told AFL.com.au.

Match preview: Melbourne v Adelaide

"I'm feeling as good at round 17 as I ever have in the six years I've played AFL, so they've managed me really well."

The 27-year-old's versatility and competitiveness have been important elements for an inexperienced defence, in what Hibberd agrees has been his most consistent year since making his debut in 2011.

The hard-nosed defender has not dipped below 20 disposals in any game this season, averaging a career-high 27.4 touches across the season – the second most, on average, at the club behind midfielder Clayton Oliver (29.7).

Hibberd, who has now tallied 95 career games, leads Melbourne for average metres gained (514.7m), ahead of speedster Jayden Hunt, and is fifth at the club for intercept possessions (70).

A long-term view to have Hibberd primed to be producing his best football towards the latter half of the season has paid dividends, with the defender to be a significant influence in the Demons' quest for finals for the first time since 2006.

It was important for Melbourne to be vigilant with Hibberd's comeback to the game, considering he had missed 18 months of football pertaining to the WADA-imposed suspension for being involved in the Bombers' ill-fated 2012 supplements program.

That he was managing knee tendinitis throughout last year, and that he pulled up tight in the hamstring after the Christmas break, made elite performance manager Dave Misson and his team become even more watchful of his training loads.

"We've gone about it in the right way," Hibberd acknowledges.

Hibberd's numbers have spiked and so has his impact at his new club, with the defender likely to be in the top five of Melbourne's best and fairest award at this point of the season.

 

Selected with pick No.4 in the 2011 pre-season draft, Hibberd played 84 games for Essendon from 2011-15, finishing fourth in the club best and fairest in 2014 and eighth in 2015.

"I had a couple of good years at Essendon but I feel like this has been the most consistent I've been," he said.

"There's still a lot of footy to be played, so hopefully I can keep getting better and better and with the match fitness that I've got now, that's going to help me."

Hibberd's aggressive style, and his ability to rapidly turn defence into attack, has been well suited to Melbourne's proactive style of team defence.

His fearless attack on the ball and the man, and his piercing left boot have been key additions to a team on the rise.

"I've played 11 games with the guys now and I've really got a feel for what makes the (defensive) group tick," Hibberd said.

Hibberd said his year out of the game had given him clarity about what footy means to him, with the defender signed up at the Demons until the end of the 2020 season.

"Having a year off made me realise that I love footy and I really want to give it a bit more," Hibberd said.

"I probably just plodded along in the past and this year I've really devoted myself to footy and the football club's been great since I've been here, so hopefully we keep pushing for the finals."