Clayton Oliver celebrates a win with fans during round one, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

AN 'EMOTIONAL' Clayton Oliver has reflected on his ongoing quest to pay back his teammates and Melbourne fans for their loyalty as he works his way back from a period of off-field turbulence.

The three-time All-Australian spent an extended period of time away from the club over the off-season amid personal issues, but was back to his damaging best against the Western Bulldogs on Sunday.

The 26-year-old racked up 35 disposals and ran hard all day, winning six clearances and proving hard for opposition players to catch.


Oliver denied that the best way to pay his teammates back for their loyalty was to play well, instead saying he had a long way to go to earn back their trust.

"[There's] still a lot of work to do, little steps along the way, but this is one of them," he told Fox Footy post-game.

"Keep being a better person and a better teammate, it's what keeps driving me every single day.


"It's been a tough couple of months … Gawny (skipper Max Gawn) and the rest of the boys have all helped me out. It's all worth it at the end of the day, coming and doing this and getting the win with the boys."

Oliver left the field not long after selflessly handing off a shot on goal in the final minutes of the game, and received a round of applause from the crowd as he made his way to the bench and hugged coach Simon Goodwin.

"It was a little bit emotional, I actually had chills down my spine," Oliver said of the crowd's reaction.

Gawn was impressed by Oliver's selflessness, saying it was a sign of the Oliver of old.

"I think what we see from Clayton is that he's had such a [difficult] little period but he's running into 50 going in for goal and he passes it off to Jacob [Van Rooyen]. He's still playing that selfless role," Gawn said.

"I think that's the player we got and I'm excited for the best version of Clayton this year."


Goodwin reflected on the journey it had taken for Oliver to get back to this position.

"You just watch him in awe. As we've said a lot in the last three or four weeks, he's just done a power of work on himself," Goodwin said in his post-match press conference.

"The club has been incredibly supportive of Clayton, they've helped him in that process, he's committed to it and he's just come back a healthy, happy person who is committed to his training and his team.

"We saw today evidence of that. He just wants to be a great teammate and he did that today, and you could see the connection starting to build between teammates, everyone, supporters.

Nick Coffield is tackled by Clayton Oliver during the round one, 2024 between Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs at the MCG, March 17, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

"There's a great love for Clayton at our club. Yep, there's been a bit going on, but we're in his corner and we're behind him and we want to see him succeed."

Goodwin admitted he had doubted at times whether Oliver would return.

"I think everyone had doubts, I'm sure Clayton had some doubts," he said.

"But Gary Pert, Alan Richardson and his management group, we built a great plan for him to come in and execute along with the welfare and the medical team. And he's bought into it.

"There's no doubt there were no guarantees three months ago about where this would end up, but right now we sit here with Clayton in a great spot.

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"You see the love our supporters have for him, it was pretty evident when he came off today, as it is for me.

"We've just had a connection for a long time, right from his draft combine. I was a big part of that draft and getting him to our footy club, along with Tim Lamb and Jason Taylor.

"We've seen a young kid come through our footy club and we want to make sure our people leave as great people and in a great space.

"It's emotional for us all, because he's such an important person to us.

"He's been a big part of transforming this footy club in the right direction since he's arrived, the competitive nature that he plays with.


"To see someone grow through this, and in his own words, he's still got a lot of work to do. But he's well on the way to being a great person and a great player within our footy club and that's first and foremost for us."

Despite a lack of pre-season conditioning, Oliver coped well in the afternoon heat, playing 71 per cent of game time.

"Credit to the strength and conditioning staff, they had a good program for everyone and I still did a little bit when I was obviously not at the club, but I feel alright, just ticking along and hopefully it gets better each week," Oliver said.

Melbourne takes on Hawthorn next Saturday.