STEVEN May started reading books last year.

It's not that the star Melbourne defender never had before, but it was out of character for him. May's spent the past 12 months or so taking a deep dive of self-exploration.

The results are stunning. He is happier, has played all of the Demons' 14 matches so far and is probably in a two-way race with Christian Petracca for the club's best and fairest award.

May might even be on the verge of Virgin Australia AFL All Australian honours.

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It's a far cry from when he arrived last season from Gold Coast via blockbuster trades that effectively saw Jesse Hogan join Fremantle, May land at Melbourne and pick six (Ben King) go to the Suns.

The problems started with May not presenting in the physical shape his new club wanted, then – after working hard to catch up – there was a pre-season hamstring setback and, most significantly, a serious groin injury.

A suspension cost him playing in round one, too.

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Throw in some personal issues and May's choice to have a few beers with mates while injured, exacerbated by a mischievous pub patron taking and sharing a photo of him, and his year went from bad to worse.

Demons coach Simon Goodwin proved the catalyst for change, even if May originally reacted angrily to the tough love and even briefly wondered, 'Why does he hate me?'.

"I was a bit surprised, because he got me down to the club and I thought he had my back, but he just hit me between the eyes and told me I needed to start owning up to my actions," May told

"I thought I needed someone to put an arm around me … but he just wanted to be honest. We had a hard talk, man to man, and he said he was behind me and wanted to support me."

May played only eight games last year, his fewest since 2012. He went to Europe with his Melbourne teammates for a couple of weeks post-season, but chose not to follow them to the United States.

Instead, May started his pre-season early. In isolation, that doesn't seem like a momentous decision – but it was.

He was 4kg lighter than usual (98kg v 102kg) by the time the season rolled around, yet his strength measures were all up.

Melbourne's Steven May at training in December 2019. Picture: AFL Photos

"I just feel like I let a lot of people down last year, including myself, and going away and sort of celebrating the season – I didn't feel like I should have been a part of that," May said.

"It was more a mental thing. It probably wouldn't have affected me too much, but knowing I sacrificed something small for the chance to have a better season was a big deal for me."

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May began booking regular sessions with the Demons' resident psychologist. Doing that was significant as well, looking back, because he was admitting he needed help.

"I was in a really bad spot last year, because of my lack of performances, not being able to be out there and the off-field trouble," he said.

"I started talking to a psychologist and learning about things that are in my control and out of my control, and why I do things and why I feel a certain way.

"It's pretty weird for someone who's 28 to start to want to learn about that, but I was like, 'I don't like feeling like this and I want to change'."

Melbourne's Steven May gets a handball away against Brisbane. Picture: Getty Images/AFL Photos

That's when the reading began. Melbourne's new strength and conditioning boss, Darren Burgess, provided May with one book that proved especially influential, The Road Less Travelled.

The book's written by a psychiatrist, Dr Scott Peck, and the blurb for it on Amazon starts: "Confronting and solving problems is a painful process which most of us attempt to avoid."

Not all of it related to May, but he identified with many passages and implemented change into his own life. One of them was no longer making excuses for his behaviour.

I finally feel happy. I thought I was, but I wasn't

- Steven May

May's still figuring himself out. He typically requests the club's defensive coach, Troy Chaplin, to show him only the video edits where he makes mistakes, as he strives for perfection.

"It's pretty stupid, because it's impossible to play a perfect game, but that's just my mindset. I don't want my opponent to kick a goal and I don't want him to have a touch," he said.

Anyone who watched May shut down St Kilda prodigy Max King in Alice Springs a couple of Saturday nights ago, while winning 22 disposals and 12 intercept possessions, will argue he was pretty close to it.

The Demons continue to frustrate, most recently in Thursday's clash with Sydney, but also in a horrible third quarter in a costly loss to the Western Bulldogs and a woeful display against Port Adelaide.

After the Power game, when May was again Melbourne's best player in quelling Charlie Dixon, he told the club's website he was "pretty pissed off".

In between, the Demons have shown promising signs. It takes May back to something Goodwin tells his players regularly about getting what you deserve in this game.

May doesn't quite know how his off-field transformation is translating to what he's doing on-field, but there's no doubt his strong form isn't an accident.

"I feel like a very different person, and I finally feel happy. I thought I was, but I wasn't," he said.

"I think I was a bit unsure about a few things and was just trying to get through, whereas I just had to make a change.

"Don't get me wrong – I'm still on that journey. I've got a long way to go, but I feel like I'm on the right road now."