DURING a gruelling pre-season, Charlie Constable felt he'd be capable at AFL level if given the opportunity.
That instinct has been exceeded in a whirlwind opening two rounds as the Geelong youngster has proven more than capable in successive wins on big stages against 2018 top-four teams Collingwood and Melbourne.
But a few things have still surprised the 19-year-old, who is nicknamed 'Chook' because of his insatiable taste for chicken.
In an engine room boasting greats Patrick Dangerfield, Joel Selwood and Gary Ablett, along with stars Tim Kelly and Mitch Duncan, Constable didn't expect to play exclusively in his preferred role as an inside midfielder.
"It's great to start your career with two wins in massive games. It's really helped me and the other young guys that the team has started well," Constable told AFL.com.au after he became the round two nominee for the NAB AFL Rising Star award.
"As a midfield group we've come up against two of the best midfields in the game and we've stood up quite well as a whole. To be given a role I enjoy playing and to do OK, I couldn't ask for anything more.
"I just hope I can keep playing good football and stay in the team the whole year."
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Constable could easily have made his AFL debut last year, his first season at Geelong, but he wouldn't have been as physically prepared for the task.
The former Sandringham Dragons and Vic Metro star – the No. 36 pick in the 2017 NAB AFL Draft – had his first season interrupted by complications following surgery that removed his tonsils.
However, Constable quickly made his presence felt and was named an emergency five times in the opening seven rounds.
His progress was briefly stunted by a mid-season bout of concussion but in 15 VFL games he averaged a creditable 24 disposals.
Set the aim of improving his fitness and running capacity, Constable and best mate Andy Brayshaw, the Fremantle midfielder, completed arduous running and gym sessions six days a week in the off-season.
The young Cat arrived at pre-season training in good shape and continued to explore his physical limits.
"Charlie has improved markedly in that area," Geelong midfield coach Matthew Knights told AFL.com.au.
"There were times during running sessions where he pushed himself to exhaustion, and he'll only get better at that."
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Constable was given an opportunity in the JLT Community Series and, according to him, his efforts were "not too bad"… He was better than that, opening his campaign with 26 touches in a loss to reigning premier West Coast in Perth, before collecting 17 possessions (nine contested) and five clearances in just 50 per cent game time against Essendon.
It reinforced to him that he was on the right track.
"The game against West Coast, in particular, gave me confidence that my game could stack up against some good players," Constable said.
He was one of four Geelong debutants named to face Collingwood in a round one blockbuster on Friday night at the MCG.
"One of the good things about Charlie is that he really earnt his spot though his JLT form and sheer hard work. He's had to be patient and he's really deserved it," Knight said.
Constable and fellow debutant Jordan Clark after the round one win over Collingwood. Picture: AFL Photos
In front of more than 78,000 fans, Constable had 21 possessions in 65 per cent game time and snapped an important goal that put the Cats ahead early in the last quarter en route to an upset seven-point win.
It was a challenging baptism, given he spent time on Pies guns Scott Pendlebury, Dayne Beams and Adam Treloar. The lesson was: "You've got to treat them with so much respect – you can't just let them be free at a stoppage because they're all so damaging."
Constable himself was damaging in the 80-point drubbing of Melbourne at GMHBA Stadium on Saturday night. In just 69 per cent game time he amassed 31 possessions (second behind only Cats' superstar Patrick Dangerfield's 37) and nailed a long set shot in the final term.
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His accelerated education also continued as he matched up on astute trio Angus Brayshaw, Clayton Oliver and Jack Viney.
"They're all unbelievable too. I was really impressed with Clayton Oliver – he's so clean and gets his hands free and distributes, which I'm not but at but I want to make elite. Hopefully I can put a bit of what he does into my game," he said.
That said, Constable, who stands at 191cms and weighs 86kgs, models his game on Carlton star Patrick Cripps.
Constable's timing was impeccable. Just when he was making big strides in his development, the Cats were making plans to give its young midfielders more experience in the engine room with the eventual aim of creating a seamless transition for when Ablett, Selwood and Dangerfield hang up the boots.
"It's one thing to be selected but it's another to grab that opportunity, and Charlie and our other young players have done that so far. They're carrying their share of the load," Knights said.
Constable, who will turn 20 in May, understands and appreciates the opportunity before him in the midfield succession plan.
"It's the evolution of our club. We can't have the same boys playing in there all the time, but we've still got them there to talk to and help us when we need it," he said.
"There are also a lot of boys in the VFL who could come up and play, so you've always got to be on your game."
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Constable has been pleasantly surprised by the effort that Duncan, his mentor, and Dangerfield in particular have invested in him.
"It's fast-tracked my improvement, which is really special. I can call or text Mitch, or go around to his house whenever I feel like I need to know something, or just to have a chat to him. I'm really grateful for that," he said.
Constable can also call on an illustrious member of his own family for advice. His mother is a niece of three-time premiership coach Mick Malthouse, who has imparted some words of wisdom at various times.
"He told me to just enjoy all the moments along the way because your career is over very quickly. That really resonates with me, because there have been a couple of special moments already," Constable said.
After being forced to work so hard for his debut, Constable isn't about to take anything for granted. A case in point is the way he spoke about the Cats' big clash with Adelaide at Adelaide Oval on Thursday night.
"I can't wait to get out there Thursday – if I'm playing – and hopefully we have another win and I play my part," he said.
Rest assured, he'll play all right.
"Charlie's proud of the way he has started, and we're very proud of him too, but he's also quick to defer to the team. That's just him. There's not much fuss about Charlie," Knights said.