IT STARTED a couple of years ago, when each Western Bulldogs player was asked to do a presentation on a past player who wore their number.
Dogs midfielder Patrick Lipinski, a lifelong Bulldogs supporter before he joined the club at the end of 2016, already had links to his choice. His agent, Nick Gieschen, and the former talent manager of Lipinski's NAB League club the Northern Knights, Rhy Gieschen, are the sons of former Bulldogs' No.27 and ex-Richmond coach Jeff Gieschen.
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Jeff is better known for his coaching stint at Punt Road, and then as the AFL's umpires boss, but played 24 games for the club in the 1970s. Now, he's grown into a mentor, supporter and part-time coach of the exciting 22-year-old Bulldog.
"I got in contact with him for the presentation and he came over to my house and we had a good chat," Lipinski told AFL.com.au.
"Since then he's been there as a mentor messaging me after games or just seeing how I am. He's been a good supporter of me and he's a really great guy so I have that relationship through Nick and Rhy."
The texts come after most of Lipinski's games, and as the athletic ball-getter primes himself for his fifth season at AFL level, he continues to pick up tips from Gieschen.
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"I always love seeing when I've got a message from Jeff because he's quite a positive guy and he always tells me to keep working hard. If I play a good game or an average game he's mainly positive, even if I haven't played too well," he said.
"Sometimes he says 'As a coach they look for this…' so his texts are really good. I had a call with him a couple of weeks ago as well."
Lipinski is hoping the texts will be full of plenty of positivity this season as he aims to lock in a place in the Bulldogs' line-up after an up and down 2020 campaign.
After breaking through with some brilliant performances in 2019, Lipinski was omitted on a couple of occasions last year. He returned to the side and played in the Dogs' elimination final loss to St Kilda but left the season intent on making sure his time out of the side didn't happen again.
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"It was a bit frustrating personally and probably wasn't as consistent as I would have liked to have been, so I just want to get back to trying to cement my spot in the team," he said.
"You always believe you should be in the team but I couldn't dwell on it for too long because if you do you won't be back as quickly as you want. The reasons were fair that I was getting dropped so I had to try and improve them."
The main reason was to lift his tackling pressure, which he did at scratch match level, to eventually win back his spot. Lipinski hasn't stopped there over summer, doing extra power and running technique work away from the club to improve his speed.
The competition for midfield spots only got fiercer in the Bulldogs' off-season, though, with Collingwood star Adam Treloar joining the club and Josh Dunkley remaining after his trade request to Essendon fell through. Lipinski said Treloar's addition meant the Bulldogs needed to be even more flexible.
"I feel like the midfield is the best spot for me. It's pretty tough to get in there but I don't mind playing wing as well and having that versatility. I'm trying to become as good a wingman as possible. We've got Lachie Hunter who is obviously a star so I'm trying to learn off him as much as I can to become a better wing player," he said.
"I'm trying to constantly improve. We're pretty lucky with how good our midfield group is so every time you're out there you're basically with quality AFL-standard players. I feel like I'm ready to have hopefully a good season."
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The same optimism surrounds the Bulldogs, who have been knocked out in consecutive elimination finals but are pushing to be flag contenders with an exciting and rounded list. Lipinski said there's still a gap the Dogs need to close between the best sides, having only beaten one of the other seven finalists last year.
"It's never easy to make up. Clearly we've got room for improvement," he said. "We've had the experience of playing finals the last couple of years so hopefully we can take that forward and get off to a better start and make up ground because we've made it tough for ourselves."