DON’T miss. Don't miss. Don't miss. That was the thought that ricocheted through Magpie Ollie Henry's head when he went through his set shot routine against the Western Bulldogs on the Friday night stage a fortnight ago.
The 19-year-old did miss – a handful of times – finishing with 0.3 along with a couple of other chances that didn’t register a score, before he was left out of the 22 for the trip to Perth to face Fremantle last weekend.
But just nine days after that game at Marvel Stadium forced him to rethink his mental approach, Henry produced a match-winning performance after being activated as the medi-sub at Optus Stadium, finishing with 4.1 from 13 disposals and five marks in 76 minutes of game time on a soggy deck.
Collingwood coach Craig McRae and the match committee inside the AIA Centre spent more than half an hour discussing Henry's spot ahead of last weekend's game, before ultimately choosing to drop him but still take him across to Western Australia.
Henry returned to Melbourne at 3am on Monday with a new sense of belief after swatting away that little man on his shoulder in foreign territory, producing the best performance yet by a medi-sub.
"The main message was work on the mental side: Don’t psych yourself out. That’s something that I have done really easily, where I was pretty much telling myself in my own head, 'Don't miss, don't miss, don't miss'," Henry told AFL.com.au this week.
"The mentality should be (to) go back and back your routine in. That’s something I've done for years. That Friday night game against Bulldogs, my mentality wasn’t right and I definitely missed some opportunities that normally I'd love to take. I knew I had to work on it and I got to work on it throughout the week. When I had a set shot this time it was about backing in the work I had done.
"That's the whole part of learning for me. In a highly intense sport, one mistake can seem a lot bigger in your own head than it was. For me, I didn’t move past my mistakes and I wasn’t present in the game. I just needed to get over that one miss, two misses and slot the third. In that case, I didn’t."
Henry had never started a game as a substitute until the weekend and was introduced in the second quarter when Mason Cox suffered a compound finger dislocation, quickly putting into practice what he had worked on during the week.
"It was a weird feeling sitting on the bench, not knowing if you do get on. When someone does go down you want them to get back up," Henry said.
"When it spontaneously happens that I was called on, from that moment on I knew I had to stay present, not think about what's happened or what would happen in the limited game time, just stay present. Just try to control the moments that I have. That’s what I've been working on.
"It was a pleasing thing for me to not play a quarter and a half and then come on and have an impact. I always knew I could be a goal kicker, but last week I worked on it so much that it would help me psychologically when I'd have a shot. I was comfortable enough to go back and back my routine."
The 2020 pick No. 17 has been in and out of the side a couple of times this season, spending three weeks in the VFL – where he kicked 12 goals, including a bag of seven against Coburg – before he was recalled for the round eight blockbuster against Richmond.
While he could be forgiven for feeling hard done by, Henry believes the tough love approach has helped accelerate his development in just his second season.
"The year itself I've been rapt with, even though there's been so many adversities in my own growth. But I think overall, as a player and as a person, I've grown a whole heap in comparison to any other year. If I stay on course with what I'm doing, it should only be a matter of time before I start to reap the rewards of what I'm doing," he said.
"I think if you do get dropped, the mentality shouldn’t be, 'Oh why?’. It should be, 'What's next?'. Most of the times it's happened to me, I've almost felt a little bit of relief because I've known what I needed to go and work on. I've come back better for it. I don’t think there should be any unsavoury feelings against the coach for doing that. In my case, it’s a good learning opportunity."
Henry is about as Geelong as it gets. He grew up in the shadows of Kardinia Park, part of a tight-knit family that sat behind the goals to watch the Cats every second weekend in winter. He went to school at St Joseph's College in Newtown, and played underage footy at St Mary's before graduating to the Geelong Falcons program.
While his older brother – Geelong defender Jack Henry – got to stay home, Ollie had to move up the highway to the city and learn to fend for himself. He is still expanding his cooking repertoire, attempting a soup for the first time after our conversation at the Glasshouse on Wednesday afternoon, but enjoying the independence.
"Of course, I miss it. The small things like family dinners, but I think I've got the best of both worlds. I've come to Melbourne and leaned so much about myself," he said.
"They are only the car trip away, just down the road. I'm not missing out on much. I call mum every night just to hear what she's had to do that day. I'm not craving it; I'm loving where I'm at. I think I'm starting to grow as a person in an independent environment."
Henry has returned to Geelong Falcons this year to help mentor and coach some of the younger players. He spends one night a week at Highton Reserve, where Cats great Tom Lonergan is the talent manager, dipping his toe in the water after putting his university degree on hold for 2022.
Most first-round picks from the 2020 draft class have recommitted beyond their original two-year deal, but Henry is yet to put pen to paper. While he is in no rush, he is happy at Collingwood and loving the opportunity to play for a powerhouse club in the heart of the city.
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"As a young player at such a big club, it's something you're never used to having that attention from such a great fan base, even having so many people watch you train," he said.
"There is always a drive to make sure you're doing the best to give the fans what they want to see. Hard work is all I can really give them. When it comes to game time, we all try our best."
After two weeks of intense focus, one thing is for certain: Henry is made of the right stuff.