FINDING a balance with all aspects of his life has been crucial to Jesse Hogan producing a career-best season, with the Greater Western Sydney forward peaking in the lead-up to his first preliminary final.
Hogan has never played more than the 22 games that he has managed this season, and two goals against Collingwood on Friday night will give him a 50-goal tally for the first time in his nine years in the AFL.
While the GWS forward line has appeared to centre on All-Australian captain Toby Greene at times this season, the 28-year-old Hogan was vital in a semi-final onslaught against Port Adelaide with four goals.
The secret to his form, according to forward line coach Jeremy Laidler, is a strong understanding of his body, which has led to continuity on the track and a better connection with teammates, and balance with his football and personal life.
"When he needs to put his head in the game and play football, he does that to a tee. Then he gets his time away from football, whether it's family time or getting out in the surf. I think he's got a really strong balance," Laider, who joined the Giants ahead of 2023, told AFL.com.au this week.
"I didn't know Jesse from a bar of soap when I arrived … but I really believe in the connection piece and I like to be vulnerable in line meetings and open myself up so the players can feel comfortable when they open themselves up to me.
"We had some really honest conversations about life, about history, about football. You look at his time in the game, and it has been up and down. Whether that's off-field challenges or his body.
"But you can just see now how much he is enjoying his football. He's got some real continuity with his training this year, and I think he's also got a really strong off-field balance as well."
The challenges during Hogan's time in the AFL have been significant, and there was no escaping the spotlight as a young star at Melbourne and then a high-profile Fremantle recruit in the Perth fishbowl.
After confronting testicular cancer as a Demon and the death of his father Tony, Hogan then struggled on and off the field at the Dockers and sought a trade to GWS at the end of 2020, where the talented 196cm forward has flourished with a low profile.
Laidler, an 87-game player with Geelong, Carlton and Sydney, spent five seasons as an assistant coach with the Swans before joining Adam Kingsley's new-look team for 2023. He knows how certain personalities can benefit from the anonymity NSW provides.
"Being in Sydney has helped him and living close to the beach has helped him, because I look at him as using surfing as an outlet," Laidler said.
"I'm sure he gets out there at least once a week, so just having that outlet to get some of your own time, or with mates, in the ocean has been huge for him.
"The good thing about being in Sydney is not many people know who you are or recognise you, so you can get away from football.
"The game is definitely growing and I'm sure the players are going to get recognised more and more. But being out in the ocean, you can get away from a lot of things."
Laidler doesn't see a ceiling for Hogan and believes there is still growth in his game after a year spent taking on the best key defenders in the competition.
The coach highlighted his role as a leader and teacher in the GWS forward line alongside Greene, and said he had been impressed by the Western Australian's football smarts and commitment to knowing his rivals.
"He always watches tape and watches opposition, and he comes to line meetings with knowledge about opponents we're coming up against and how we can best play to our strengths around that," Laidler said.
"He doesn't get the credit he deserves. He competes against the best key backs in the competition and he always brings the ball to ground if he doesn't mark it. He's a really hard match-up.
"Then with his knowledge of the game and the way he sees where he needs the space or where he wants the ball to be put, he can sell defenders a story that he might be going one way and then he'll end up going the other way.
"The best thing is you can see how much he's enjoying playing the game. I think it's been a real credit to him understanding his body, understanding his role, and then understanding the balance with footy and life."