RILEY Thilthorpe was getting ready for West Adelaide's trial game against Norwood in mid-March when a thought crossed his mind.
Just as the coronavirus pandemic's damage was about to flatten football, the promising draft prospect and potential top-five pick realised how that contest, although due to be the start of his season, might also be something else.
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"It was starting to get serious around that first trial game we played. I was sort of joking around saying, 'This is the Grand Final', and, 'We're not going to be playing again for a while'," he told AFL.com.au.
"And then a week later we got told we weren't playing for three months at least."
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Under-18 competitions and state leagues were put on hold until at least May 31, before the AFL followed with its elite level on the Sunday of round one. When games are played next remains uncertain as the world attempts to contain the COVID-19 spread.
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Football, clearly, has been swept up in the havoc, not least of all draftees like Thilthorpe, who had set himself for his draft season and was ready for its challenges. This was not one he, nor anyone, saw coming.
Clubs have been banned from interviewing draft prospects for the next couple of weeks. They were planning to do interviews via Skype, Zoom etc but AFL has blocked that for now. More in @AFLcomau's rolling blog. https://t.co/Dy1py0P6bK— Callum Twomey (@CalTwomey) March 22, 2020
"At the start it's easy to feel a bit sorry for yourself and get down, but after seeing the affect it's having on other Australians and other people's lives around the world, you take a step back and realise you're really lucky to be in the situation you're in," he said.
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"It's given me more time to spend on school and with family, and even footy-wise, to get ready for the back half of the season hopefully and getting fitter, stronger, faster, cleaner."
The 200cm key forward, whose athleticism has seen him played all over the ground, including the wing and the ruck, entered this season with big ambitions. After an injury-affected 2019 campaign that saw him hurt both shoulders, and then miss the under-18 championships through an ankle injury, Thilthorpe had enjoyed a strong pre-season, including a week training with Port Adelaide.
Now those plans have been contained to the backyard, home garage and local park, with the 17-year-old taking on training in isolation with creativity, using some help from his mum Claudine.
"Mum used to be a personal trainer and we had a lot of handy equipment that she's kept, like a bench-press table, dumbbells, kettle bells, bar bells," he said.
"Nobody was using the trampoline for a bit so I convinced mum to let me use. We hung it off the balcony, put some ropes on it and put it on there so I can kick into it and hit golf balls into it. It's been my lifesaver throughout this time.
"It's obviously not as fun when you're running laps by yourself but I'm trying to stay consistent and I know how I'm running and if I'm pushing myself hard enough.
"It's been not too bad for me because I'm used to doing a lot of that stuff by myself because I've grown up doing extras, so it feels pretty normal."
Despite the interruptions last year, recruiters still saw plenty of Thilthorpe's talents – performances that will be extra important if games are limited in the second half of 2020. He made his senior debut for West Adelaide in July and kicked three goals in his second game, finishing with six appearances and eight goals at SANFL level.
"I felt because I did pre-season with them so I thought I could compete with them, but it was just a big shock. They kept me in and I did my job," he said.
Thilthorpe, who grew up playing ice hockey, a sport his father Ben represented Australia in, is comfortable being thrown in any position on the ground. He thinks his versatility as a marking tall who can run and move across the ground has helped him in the past, and he had aimed to play as a pure midfielder this season, too. He's preparing as though that chance will come.
"I'm just trying to stay positive and make sure I'm ready if we do get to play again. Keep myself in the best shape possible so I'm ready whenever that time is that we get back out there," he said.