DAVID Teague was walking around Optus Stadium when his phone buzzed.
Midway through his first full season as Carlton coach, Teague had long been pondering how best to solve a small forward void at Ikon Park that had led the Blues down the paths of protracted trade sagas involving Tom Papley, the return of an old hero in Eddie Betts, and a lot of experimentation from within.
But the results had so far been indifferent. And as Carlton prepared for a three-match road trip in Western Australia on a mission to salvage something from its 2020 season, a reliable small forward buzzing at the feet of key-position stars like Harry McKay remained the club's top priority.
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So, when Teague looked down at his ringing phone and saw Zac Fisher's name flash up on his screen, he was pleasantly surprised. And a touch relieved. Fisher had called to help solve the mystery.
"He just said, 'coach … I'm going to be the best small forward I can be'," Teague told AFL.com.au last month.
The phone call was the end result of countless debates between coach and player over the course of the season. Teague had frequent chats with his young star over whether he would consider trying his luck forward. Fisher, on the other hand, had his mind set on remaining in the midfield.
But a round one syndesmosis injury would keep Fisher out of action for close to four months. As it happened, due to the COVID-19-enforced postponement of the season, that resulted in the diminutive 22-year-old missing just eight matches.
Still, crucially, it gave him time to think. Internally, he began to weigh up how returning in an attacking role could help him ease back into the senior side. Slowly, thanks to Teague's persuasion and a change of heart himself, he was swayed.
Then came the phone call, a statement of his commitment.
"I originally had plans to keep improving as a midfielder," Fisher told AFL.com.au.
"I think that's where my goals were set, but after round one when I did my syndesmosis I had a few weeks to think. I was eight weeks off legs and I was out for 12 to 15 weeks, so I thought my running capacity wouldn't allow me to play midfield to the level I wanted to.
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"I thought that when I'd come back, I'd play that small forward role. We needed someone to come in and play that role and I just thought I'd give him a call to tell him my mind was there. I put all of my attention into the craft of being a small forward.
"But that call, it was a mindset change. I was just going to impact forward."
Fisher's new role brought about immediate rewards. Just days after phoning his coach, the zippy 177cm West Australian kicked four goals on his return to the side for a round 11 clash with West Coast.
That performance gave Fisher the impetus to attack the summer. He returned to pre-season training early, arriving back in Victoria before Christmas, while he has put on 4kgs of muscle since to ensure he has the physicality to compete in the air and tackle with ferocity when the ball hits the deck inside 50.
Fisher's performance against the Eagles was evidence of his high-level footy IQ and his natural goal sense. And it continued throughout the remainder of the campaign, where he ranked behind only Christian Petracca for forward-50 groundball gets in the League, third at Carlton for forward-half pressure acts, and fourth at the club for score involvements.
Combine those numbers with his impressive summer on the track, and his development has warmed Carlton officials with the confidence that he can become a significant long-term contributor in attack.
"Where we really needed him to play was that small forward role," Teague said.
"It's what the team needed. I'm not saying he doesn't want to go into the midfield at some stage, but he committed to it. From that point on, he's spent all of his energy and effort in becoming the best that he can be and learning the craft.
"He's tapped into Eddie's knowledge and he's using Cameron Bruce as his line coach to review his game. He went away, trained really hard, he's put on a bit of muscle. We're seeing the benefits of it now."
Fisher is ambitious, but despite the positive signs displayed throughout a strong summer he remains apprehensive to put any targets in place ahead of his first full season as a small forward.
"It's hard to say," he laughed.
"I'd love to kick as many goals as possible, but it's not just about that. It's about goal assists and score involvements. I want to be known as a score involvement player, not as someone who just kicks goals."
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Indeed, Fisher is using 'non-goal actions' as a motivator this season. In last Thursday's behind-closed-doors practice match victory over Essendon, he kicked two majors and set up another despite being held without a touch in the first term.
But rather than get irritated by his quiet start, Fisher was sparked into life by the opportunity of a chase-down tackle on Bombers captain Dyson Heppell early in the second quarter. It resulted in a routine set-shot and kickstarted his afternoon.
"As a midfielder as a junior, or even last Thursday when I didn't have a touch in the first quarter, I'd get really frustrated and over-think it," Fisher said.
"But now, whether it's through a tackle, blocking for talls, running the right patterns … your teammates will reward you for those actions.
"People watching on the TV, they'd look at the stats and wouldn't appreciate it. But I think it's important that your teammates acknowledge you for doing the stuff that isn't recorded in stats."
As for a return to the midfield, it is still on Fisher's agenda. Locked in at Ikon Park until at least the end of 2023 courtesy of a two-year contract extension penned last October, the Carlton fan-favourite still believes it's where his long-term future lies.
As for now, Fisher is fully focused on becoming the best small forward that he can possibly be. And he's looking towards a Greater Western Sydney star for inspiration in terms of how he can flourish in the role.
"Yeah, I do (want to return to the midfield one day)," Fisher said.
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"I always think about the Giants boys, when they were stacked with mids. Toby Greene went forward and he was the first person to get his All-Australian blazer.
"I feel like I can be really good at the small forward role, so I want to put everything into it. When I start playing consistent football and after I keep developing my body – or it might be a team need at the time – then I think that's when it (a return to the midfield) will be."
As for being a goalkicking Carlton forward with a flowing mullet, Fisher holds good company alongside former premiership captain Stephen Kernahan. And, like Fisher in attack, the new 'do is here to stay.
"The reason I have it is because grandma always asks for a new photo in round one for the photo album," Fisher laughed.
"I've changed it up every year and this is what I've got this year. I think I might keep it for the time being."