FROM a third-string Gold Coast forward to the "real competitive bugger" anchoring Melbourne’s premiership hopes, Steven May’s journey is like few others.

Not only has the Northern Territory product had to learn a new position and change his mindset, but above all else had to mature and adjust the way he dealt with teammates. 

From the Suns to the Demons, the same tag has followed the 29-year-old – he loves to get "very firm feedback" and he also loves to dish it out.

Steven May chats with Gold Coast coach Guy McKenna in 2011. Picture: AFL Photos

It hasn't always been for everyone, but just as his football has improved over the years, so has his maturity and ability to handle different situations.

Two coaches that have worked with May the closest over his 11-year career tell similar tales of a fiercely driven man that just wants the best for himself and his club.

Troy Chaplin has worked alongside May as his defensive coach since he turned up at Melbourne at the end of 2018.

Alongside Jake Lever, who was in the midst of recovering from a ruptured ACL at the time, May was supposed to be the top-end defensive backbone Melbourne was missing after coming off a preliminary final loss that season.

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But his early days with Melbourne were difficult.

He turned up to pre-season training unfit and battled to recover, suffering hamstring and groin injuries that reduced him to just eight games in 2019.

As Chaplin told AFL.com.au, May also took time to get on the same communication page as his teammates.

"When he came to club it was 'this is how I play, this is how I do things' and it took guys a while to get used to that," Chaplin said.

"It caught a few people off-guard in those early days, we hadn't had someone like that, someone so demanding of their teammates."

Max Gawn has a discussion with Steven May at one of his first training sessions as a Melbourne recruit. Picture: AFL Photos

Chaplin said it wasn't solely May's responsibility to improve in that area.

May had to learn there was more than one way to deliver a message, while his new teammates had to match the full-back's intensity and accept feedback.

"He's done a lot of work in the mental space," Chaplin said.

"What he hasn't lost is that competitive nature and demanding nature, but what's he's improved is building relationships with different people.

"How Jake Lever responds is different to how Harrison Petty responds and different again to how Christian Salem responds.

"Sometimes he can be direct, sometimes he can nurture. He's learned all that now and we're getting the best of both worlds."

May and Lever – both first-time Therabody AFL All-Australians in 2021 – are not only a great tandem on the field, but off it as well, driving each other with "very firm" feedback.

Steven May and Jake Lever play rock, paper, scissors at training on Saturday, September 18. Picture: AFL Photos

It's a trait Chaplin says rubs off on the rest of Melbourne's frugal back seven.

What really clicked for May following his rocky 2019 season was his body.

He stripped weight in the next pre-season, got fit and has missed just two of the next 41 games – one with a fractured eye socket and the other when he was rested in round 22 this year.

The continuity and belief in his body, never better displayed than the preliminary final win over Geelong where he nursed a tight hamstring through almost three quarters, has seen his game flourish.

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May was not always destined to be one of the game's premier defenders though, after being drafted by Gold Coast as a key forward.

Dean Solomon worked closely with May during his eight years at the Suns, many of them as his backline coach, and told AFL.com.au it took a tough chat to show May his future lied in defence.

Standing 193cm tall and full of power, May grabbed 12 marks and kicked three goals in a breakout game against Hawthorn at the MCG late in 2012, but 12 months later there was a squeeze in the Suns' forward 50.

They had physically imposing Charlie Dixon and a rapidly improving Tom Lynch ahead of him, and Sam Day also in the mix clambering for the same space.

"We had a conversation with him," Solomon recalled.

"He likes honest feedback. He loves talking football, he loves talking honest football and he doesn't like the fluff.

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"He was third of fourth in line, it was that simple.

"We had Nathan Bock, who wasn't going to be around forever and we had Matty Warnock (in defence).

"I had a conversation with 'Maysie' that there was a position as a key defender for the next 10-12 years if he could get his head around it.

"He had a great mix of speed, power and he hates being beaten, they're all the ingredients to be a great defender.

"He went away and came back with a great mindset.

"It was a defining monument for him and his development as a person. Taking the blinkers off to what he thought was his only position and being open minded and grabbing the opportunity."

Sun Steven May in action against Eagles spearhead Josh Kennedy. Picture: AFL Photos

May was a revelation in defence, instantly forming a great relationship with Rory Thompson.

As Melbourne found out in later years, May was just as demanding of his teammates as a Sun – prior to, and then when he became co-captain with Lynch for 2017 and 2018.

Solomon said how May delivered feedback was part of his off-field development that constantly needed to be worked on.

"He expects the highest standards of himself, and he also expects it of his teammates. It's something that improved with maturity."

The one word littered through talks with both Chaplin and Solomon is "competitive".

By modern standards May is often outsized by his opponent, as he will slightly be by 195cm Aaron Naughton in Saturday's Toyota AFL Grand Final, but it makes little difference.

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Chaplin says May trusts, and in turn has the trust, of his teammates, while Solomon – a premiership winner with Essendon in his playing days – has no doubt how May will handle the big occasion.

"He's dog-hungry, a real competitive bugger," Solomon said.

"He's made for Grand Final day.

"There's no hope, no luck, there's nothing to chance with him, he'll lock on to Naughton and make life as difficult as he can for him."

What started as a promising career in the forward line before hitting a few bumps along the road with his mindset and his body, now has a chance to finish with a pot of gold on Saturday.