DRAFT hopefuls from around the country have for weeks been dealing with the prospect of potentially not playing again this year after the sudden stop of the season due to the coronavirus.
Elijah Hollands, however, had come to that reality a month earlier for an entirely different reason.
Hollands started 2020 as a candidate for the No.1 draft pick.
The explosive, long-kicking forward/midfielder had set up his credentials for a final under-18 season, having played for Vic Country at the national carnival and excited for the Murray Bushrangers in the NAB League.
Then, during a February training session with local club Wodonga, he tore his anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. His draft season was over before it began.
"We were doing a full ground drill and I was leading up as a forward. The footy got kicked over my head a little bit so I was backing back to jump for the mark and as I did that I landed and my knee buckled as I came down," he told AFL.com.au.
"I thought I heard a crack and that was weird, so I initially thought it might have been a broken bone. It was pretty sore for about 10 seconds then numbed straight away and I walked off the ground with some assistance.
"In my head I ruled out any ligament damage because I thought I heard a crack. I found out the next day that my judgment was very wrong."
Hollands, whose father Ben played eight games for Richmond in 1999, was quick to think about what the long absence would mean for his draft chances.
But as messages poured in from teammates, recruiters and even AFL stars – Bombers midfielder Zach Merrett sent him a message out of the blue on Instagram, while most Richmond players and officials called after he had trained there over summer – Hollands felt more confident about his draft hopes.
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"That was the first thing football wise that came into my mind," he said.
"But with all the messages that I got I had a fair bit of reassurance that I was lucky enough to play some good footy last year and got some exposure in the championships playing where there was a lot of recruiters watching.
"I got some reassurance there, but there was, and still is, a little bit of doubt that I might not be able to show as much as other boys will be able to show this year. But that's out of my control now and there isn't much I can do to change that."
The long-term injury put the 187cm prospect out of the No.1 race in the eyes of many recruiters. It is rare for a draftee to be taken in the first handful of selections having not played at all in their top-age season.
However with uncertainty on how much under-18 football will be played this season to counter the COVID-19 outbreak, the opportunity for others to catch up to Hollands has been minimised.
Melbourne's recruiting manager Jason Taylor said on the Road to the Draft podcast last week that the absence "might not hurt" Hollands' draft position now.
It has crossed Hollands' mind, too. "It does change my mindset a bit," he said.
"But there was still so much I was going to be able to do helping on gameday and to improve my general intelligence of the game, so it's not the way I want to look at it."
After the initial shock and frustration of his injury, Hollands' focus turned to his return. The first week after surgery was spent in bed – "Mum took good care of me, I had the tray set up for food," he said – and two weeks ago he stopped wearing the brace on his knee. More recently, he has started lateral movement within his program.
Hollands finished last season on a high. He was close to best afield in the NAB All Stars 'Futures' game on Grand Final morning, when he had 24 disposals, five clearances and booted two goals.
He was hoping to be a midfielder who rested forward in 2020 – opposite to the mix he had last season – having spent the pre-season working on his midfield craft.
Hollands, who finished year 12 at Caulfield Grammar last year, has moved back to Wodonga, where he's working four days a week for his father's advertising agency.
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"He's been massive for me and he's had that AFL exposure, but one thing he's really made sure with me is that I just have to make sure I really enjoy the moments I am playing," he said.
"He was probably on the harsher end of the AFL where he was delisted a couple of times so he's making sure I am having fun with footy because you never really know what's going to happen.
"My injury shows it all can change in a split second so he's always making sure I'm having fun."