JOSH Sinn used last year to get organised. As his plans for 2020 nosedived with COVID-19 wiping out his year 12 at Xavier College as well as his hopes of impressing as a bottom-aged player, the talented midfielder set up his preparation for 2021.
After some growing pains with injuries in previous years, he got fit, training regularly and with purpose. And after feeling he had been pushed around at under-16s level, he got bigger, transforming his body and adding 13 kilos in the space of six months.
"It was a year for me to get ready for this year," the 18-year-old told AFL.com.au. "I understood I would be playing a lot of football this year so it was almost like I tapered off last year to prepare for this one."
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The tapering, finally, is over. On Monday, Sinn will play his first competitive game of football in 20 months as the Sandringham Dragons start their NAB League season against the Oakleigh Chargers.
Sinn, an explosive left-footer who busts open games with skill and speed (he broke the Xavier school record for the 100m sprint by running 11.3 seconds), starts the year as one of the very best players in the draft, and a contender for the No.1 pick.
He learnt last year the value of ticking off goals as he hit them, finding it helped his study as he worked through the difficulties of finishing school largely away from school. That approach has seeped into his football this year.
"On my whiteboard I've got little goals and long-term goals at the end, with the main one being getting drafted. That's the one at the bottom. There's five different goals and the last one is a big one in red: make it onto an AFL list," he said.
Sinn's ambitions stretch a little further than that. Despite missing last season, he already has a growing draft CV. He skippered Vic Metro to its under-16s championships win in 2019 and starred with his penetrating play. This year, he will joint-captain the Dragons.
"I like the challenge of being the best player in the draft pool. I'd think everyone would be lying if they said they didn't want to be the best player in their draft pool," he said.
"You hear all the stories of people who go pick 40 and win a Brownlow, but in reality I think we all want to be that No.1 draft pick and go as high as we can and put ourselves in a really good place for next year's football."
Sinn, who has a twin sister Chloe, has more time on his side to do that this year. He is enrolled at Monash University studying business banking and finance, and has found the balance beneficial to his game.
He has plenty of allies to call on at the top level already. One of his closest schoolmates, new Magpie Finlay Macrae, is getting closer to an AFL debut while North Melbourne's top draft pick Will Phillips was a part of the Vic Metro program with Sinn last year.
He also has long links with emerging Western Bulldogs star Bailey Smith, with Sinn tracking two years behind Smith at school and three years in draft terms. The pair's fathers – David Sinn and Nick Smith – were also former schoolmates.
"We definitely keep in contact and we're quite good friends so he's someone I bounce off and ask heaps of questions. There's no surprise he's going so well," Sinn said.
"I remember walking into a tutor group and it was 10.55am and we'd all be eating but because it was part of his routine to eat at 11, he wouldn't start until then. Then after he'd play a game of footy you'd see him running laps as well afterwards. He is just so dedicated.
"That's a real extreme dedication and you can get all types of dedication and it's something that I've realised that if I want to play, I've got to dedicate 80 per cent of my day to playing football. I'm going to go watch vision, I'm going to study our team plan, I'm going to reach out to other players and see how they're ticking along. It's been an acquired trait being really dedicated to the game."
Sinn will mix his time across half-back (he studied Freo youngster and raking left-footer Hayden Young two years ago during his draft year), with time on the wing (he has carefully watched Isaac Smith so far this season) and in a midfield role this year. He is also likely to get a taste of the VFL with the Sandringham Zebras during the NAB League's early-season pause.
And every day he will look over to his whiteboard, glance at the bottom corner and know he's a little bit closer. "It would mean everything to me," he said. "We're all just so excited to be back playing."