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'Body language' wasn't great, admits Dunstan

Luke Dunstan fought his way back into the Saints' senior side late in 2017 - AFL,St Kilda,St Kilda Saints,Luke Dunstan,Dustin Martin
Luke Dunstan fought his way back into the Saints' senior side late in 2017
I was probably a bit down and wasn't speaking up as much as I normally would
Luke Dunstan

ST KILDA midfielder Luke Dunstan worked with the same psychologist who helped Richmond superstar Dustin Martin become a Brownlow Medal winner. 

Emma Murray, who was at the Saints twice a week this year and also spent time at the Tigers as their mindfulness coach, helped Dunstan return to his best form, which saw him recalled to the senior side in the last six games of the season. 

Martin became so close to Murray that he gave her son Will, a teenager who was left a quadriplegic after suffering a neck injury while jumping off a pier, his Norm Smith Medal.

Dunstan was dropped three times in 2017. It was the first time he was forced to play VFL and the 22-year-old admitted he did not respond to the demotion as he would have liked. 

"I went through a challenging period halfway through last season and to find out a few things about myself as a person and a footballer really helped towards the back end of the year," Dunstan told reporters at Seaford on Friday.

"Doing some work with the sports psych was massive for me and I was just pleased I was able to turn things around, and prove to myself I can play at the level and play at a good level. 

"It does give me good confidence going forward." 

Usually an outgoing and cheeky character, his demeanour changed as doubts crept in. 

"It was probably just the confidence I had in myself, which then reflected on my body language," Dunstan said.

"I wouldn't say I was my normal self around the club. I was probably a bit down and wasn't speaking up as much as I normally would. That was the main difference."

Since being drafted at No.18 in 2013, big things have been expected of the South Australian.

He was handed club great Lenny Hayes' No.7 jumper when the lion-hearted onballer retired at the end of 2014.

Being the subject of high expectations and failing to deliver was a challenge Dunstan was not accustomed to. 

"It was probably the first time in my career that I haven't been picked in a side. Having to deal with that was a new challenge and something that I didn't deal with the right way," Dunstan said.

"Through that period, I was able to learn and move forward." 

He credited rediscovering his form to Murray.

"Emma, the sports psych I worked with, had a pretty big influence on that. Going back and playing VFL, I was able to go back and play on instincts again and just rediscover how to play how I grew up playing and what initially got me drafted," Dunstan said.

For the first time since he was drafted, Dunstan is set to have a full pre-season. He has twice required shoulder reconstructions.

He is among a group of Saints jostling for spots as an inside midfielder, with David Armitage returning to the mix after a persistent groin injury, while Seb Ross, Jack Steven, Koby Stevens and Jack Steele are also in the mix. 

However, Dunstan is confident he can continue the impressive form that saw him pick up at least 24 disposals in each of his last six games of 2017.

He targeted leadership as a facet he wants to improve.

"Since I got to the club, I've been solely focused on my running and I've come back and run PBs already this year, which is pleasing personally," Dunstan said. 

"More on a leadership level, now that my body's been really good for an extended period of time, I feel like I'm ready to have more of an influence on the track."