LACHIE Whitfield had a few reasons to look forward to a coffee date with his new coach.
Last season had been one of uncertainty for the experienced Giant. There had been the side's on-field struggles, resulting in the departure of his long-time AFL coach in Leon Cameron. There had also been a painful and ongoing ankle injury that forced end-of-year surgery, and hardly any consistent stints in one particular position having been thrown around across all three lines at different stages of the campaign.
Whitfield had just started another gruelling stint of rehabilitation following the second operation on his troublesome ankle in four years, when the story then broke that his name had been raised in trade discussions among rival teams in the midst of an already busy player movement period for the Giants. It added to the growing list of questions that he wanted tabled to Adam Kingsley.
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Fortunately, Kingsley – who had been appointed Giants coach just a few weeks earlier – had already started the process of organising catch-ups with his new senior players. He had scheduled a chat over coffee with Whitfield on an October morning in Oakleigh, giving the 28-year-old the perfect opportunity to finally gather some much-desired clarity on where he featured in the club's future.
"One of the first things I asked him was whether I was part of his plans," Whitfield told AFL.com.au.
"It did rattle me a little bit. I've been at the Giants for 11 years and I've still got five years left on my deal. I've just moved into a new house up here, me and my girlfriend are really settled. I don't really know where the story started, if it was from the club or elsewhere. But it's never a nice thing to hear, that you're getting shopped around a bit.
"He just said I was definitely a required player and was part of his plans. He saw me playing off half-back all year, so it was pretty firm and a very quick 'no' in terms of me going anywhere.
"It was a bit of reassurance, which is always good. Even at an older age, you still need that. I was a bit taken aback by it all. But once I got that reassurance, it was all good. It settled the nerves a bit. I was just focusing on my rehab after that."
Once some surety had been gained on where Whitfield would be playing his footy in 2023, the next item on his agenda for Kingsley was what position. Last season had seen his magnet shifted into numerous spots on Cameron and then interim coach Mark McVeigh's whiteboard, denying him the ability to settle in one role.
That won't be the case under Kingsley. One of the first-year coach's biggest themes this summer has been settling players in a single position. Harry Himmelberg, Adam Kennedy and Callan Ward have spent the entire summer forward, Harry Perryman has moved into the midfield group, while Lachie Ash has been told he will play across half-back. Ash will be joined there by Whitfield.
A return to the backline will come after a season in which Champion Data notes Whitfield played almost entirely in defence until round five (86.8 per cent game time), mainly across half-forward until round nine (67.8 per cent game time), and then on the wing for the remainder of the campaign (92 per cent game time).
"'Kingers' basically just said to me as soon as he got the gig that I'd be playing half-back. It eased my mind, in terms of being thrown around a bit. He's given me a bit of stability," Whitfield said.
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"Mentally, I'm feeling fresh in terms of playing half-back. It's the position I enjoy playing the most and I think it's my best position. I've been playing on the wing a bit, just to fill gaps, over the last few years. I'm looking forward to it.
"Last year, I started poorly off half-back. I went to the wing to freshen up a bit and played a few good games, then got moved into the forward line, then we lost a few guys through injury, so I went back to the wing.
"I would've liked to have had that consistency across half-back and fight my way out of bad form. But I think this year, the system will help us play more as a unit. Even if someone is out of form, it'll probably be a bit more disguised now because the whole group will be able to mop up a bit better than what we've done previously."
Whitfield, now 185 games into his AFL career, was the club's second No.1 draft pick back in 2012. Key forward youngster Aaron Cadman, who arrived at the Giants last November, was their fourth. It puts Whitfield in a unique position, where he's able to provide his newest teammate with the type of advice few others can.
"He's going pretty well, Cads. He seems like he's got a good head on his shoulders and he works pretty hard. He's got all of the talent. As long as he fits into the system, he'll play," Whitfield said.
"He's probably ahead of me at 18. I was a bit more jovial and wasn't as professional as what he's showing. Being up in Sydney will be good for him. Being away from Melbourne media as the No.1 pick, it was definitely a blessing for me.
"He's just got to not waste any opportunities. I probably wasted a few in my earlier years, just having fun and enjoying footy. You always want to enjoy footy, but you can't take it for granted. I think I probably did, in a sense."
Whitfield has now fully recovered from off-season ankle surgery, recently re-joining main training and playing a full game of brutal match simulation in temperatures that soared into the high-30s last Friday.
Feeling confident in his position, his body and his future at the club, the season of uncertainty is behind him. Now, he's keen to get stuck into a campaign where he'll be joined by a new coach, new assistants and a host of new teammates.
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"It's been a really good freshen-up," Whitfield said.
"We're getting a really good understanding of a different gameplan at the moment. It's been rolled out over a number of weeks, so it's not just thrown in our face. We're learning bit-by-bit as we go, which is making it easier to implement through training. It's been a lot more time facing the screens, but it's all coming together."