Injury-plagued Demon’s huge sacrifices to reignite career
Aaron vandenBerg had to give up his golf game, and then his dog.
The foot injury that has played the Melbourne utility's career became so crippling he could no longer even put the lead on golden retriever Toby and take him for a walk.
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"It's tremendously difficult," vandenBerg said.
"I haven't played golf in over a year and a half; I had to get rid of my dog because I couldn't walk him during the day.
"There's been a lot of sacrifices trying to make sure that everything, in terms of football, goes right.
"It certainly has taken a toll on my lifestyle outside of the football club, but my main goal is to get back and play and that's the only thing I care about at the minute.
"(Toby) was a bit too loveable for me, anyway."
The hobbled Demon has missed 62 out of the past 69 games and Toby has relocated north to live with vandenBerg's mum in Wollongong.
But the Dees have cut vandenBerg's training schedule in half this summer and he is on track to play in Round 1, which would be his first game in 547 days.
While all the hype has surrounded Ed Langdon (Fremantle), Adam Tomlinson (GWS) and top draft picks Kysaiah Pickett and Luke Jackson, vandenBerg also looms as a vital inclusion.
"I've played seven games in three years, so that's not many," the tough midfielder said.
"We've taken a pretty cautious approach, but a smart approach this pre-season.
"I'm only training twice a week now, as opposed to the other boys doing four sessions a week.
"I try and implement more off-legs conditioning into my program. The one benefit I have is I'm a fairly decent runner, so fitness hasn't been my biggest issue.
"As long as I can get one session in a week."
The 27-year-old with 35 games and multiple surgeries to his name has often feared his career was over.
But vandenBerg was one of coach Simon Goodwin's best players with 19 disposals and 100 SuperCoach points against Adelaide on Saturday.
"I was half a step off for the first half," vandenBerg said.
"When I finally got a tackle on the board, a chase-down tackle, that's when you know you're back on the pace.
"Of the last five seasons I've played nearly every Marsh Series game, but I haven't played Round 1 in three years."
The versatile player had his entire 2017 and 2019 seasons wiped out although showed in a seven-game streak that overlapped with Melbourne's charge to the 2018 preliminary final that he belonged.
Goodwin is a big fan of vandenBerg and he was training well in January last year before a few hiccups - he was struggling to turn while running - scuppered another season.
Head physio Joel Ames praised vandenBerg's resilience, telling the club's documentary "he's never complained, never whinged".
The 188cm goalkicker credited the club's medical staff and psychology programs for helping keep his AFL dream alive.