Teams: Bosna / Manchester C / Fenerbahçe
MARK Blake is a man on a mission.
The Herald Sun reports the Geelong ruckman, a life-long Cats supporter, has been training the house down in an effort to ease the pain of being dropped for the club's drought-breaking 2007 premiership.
After playing 22 games during the season, Blake's axing was the talk of Grand Final week, veteran Steven King selected instead in the side which destroyed Port Adelaide by 119 points.
King is now at St Kilda, but the Herald Sun report confirms that Blake has been dealing with the trauma of missing the September euphoria by punishing his body, even when his teammates were celebrating the long-awaited premiership.
"That whole week straight after the preliminary final was one of the toughest weeks I have had in my life and obviously in footy," the newspaper quotes Blake as saying. "Just the uncertainty of the spot [in the side] and then when I found out I was pretty disappointed.
"At the time it was very tough. It was just hard seeing the boys, I mean it was great to win, but just hard seeing them out there and not being a part of it.
"But I just had to try and remain positive and look towards next year. I knew I had to try and get bigger and stronger and not be in the situation where that happens again."
By the time the Cats officially started pre-season training in late November, the 22-year-old had already been going for a month.
"I was training pretty hard three or four weeks before everyone else started," Blake said. "I was doing a fair bit of work, lots of running and weights.
"I think in the situation with the Grand Final they just needed more experience and strength. Being a ruckman you rely on your strength, so I am now just trying to get a bigger body and then hopefully the experience will come and, as I said, it never happens again."
A sub-par performance against Collingwood in the preliminary final and King being a stand-out in Geelong's VFL grand final victory two days later conspired to scupper Blake's Grand Final dream.
He revealed it wasn't until after the main training session on the Wednesday that he learned the shattering news.
"[Coach] Bomber [Thompson] said he would like to come around to my house," Blake said. "I knew I was in a fair bit of strife but still even when I heard the news I was devastated."
The article states that the big Cat sought sanctuary on the tennis court. "I was smashing the s--t out of it," he said.
Blake fronted up to training the next day where 10,000 fans had packed Skilled Stadium to watch their heroes and one of the first people to speak to him was King.
"That day was tough, that was a real test of character," Blake said.
But if that was difficult – worse was to come – as the son of Geelong ruckman and 1980 best-and-fairest winner Rod went into the rooms before the Grand Final and then sat in the stands wearing sunglasses to hide his emotions.
He ventured down to the ground after the win and briefly attended the official function afterwards.
"Being from Geelong and barracking for Geelong my whole life and with dad playing… I have just been waiting for Geelong to win a premiership.
"I'd been to the 1992, 1994 and 1995 Grand Finals, and been in the crowd when we'd got flogged.
"It would have been great to have been playing in the first one [premiership since 1963] but hopefully this year."
After the emotion of being dumped for the Grand Final came a massive personal decision, as Blake was out of contract with the Cats.
He said his manager told him to go away and have a good think about what he wanted to do as there was no shortage of interest from other clubs.
"I always wanted to stay at Geelong and I am just glad it worked out," he goes on to say in the article.
"But the worst thing about that [Geelong winning] is living in a small town, you have got half of Geelong wanting to have a chat about it.
"I went into Bunnings the other day and I had four people in about 10 minutes lining up asking questions. I just try to be polite and change the subject a little, start talking about the weather or something else."
With the benefit of hindsight, the committed Cat has realised 2007 was actually the season where he made his name in the AFL after playing only 11 games in the previous two years.
"That's the thing, the year I had wasn't too bad," he said. "I made a fair step up from the year before going from eight games to 22.
"I just have to keep looking at the positives, train hard, but I can't wait for the season to start."
" Blue Moon, You saw me standing alone
Whitout a dream in my heart
Without a love of my own "