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Making up for lost time

Marc McGowan - AFL.com.au  November 19, 2017 4:54 PM

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Taylor Garner was running laps again on Friday, like he has so many times before in his five-season AFL career.

This time there was no reason for pessimism or concern as North Melbourne's human highlight reel rounded the Arden St surface.

Garner is readying himself for his first proper pre-season after an 18-game campaign filled with promise, having finally escaped his curse of needing post-season surgery.

But repeat hamstring issues, as well as hip, knee, quad and shoulder injuries – dating to his TAC Cup days with the Dandenong Stingrays – means he will cautiously, but optimistically, advance from here.

"My body's good … confidence in my body is the main thing," the 23-year-old told AFL.com.au in a rare interview.

"I have to be a bit careful at times not to get too excited, and I definitely have a different program to everyone else. 

"I just have to know my body, and I think I've come to know that now and I'm going well."

Garner, a 187cm forward with midfield ambitions, played only 16 times in his four seasons prior to this year – missing all of 2014 – after being the No.15 pick in 2012.

He is not the type to discuss his feelings, but admitted that period demanded mental resilience and was at times "very depressing".

The story is frustratingly similar for fellow Kangaroo Mason Wood, a richly talented key forward drafted in the same year as Garner.

Wood, who has played 26 games to Garner's 34, is still trying to come out the other side, with a calf injury ending his 2017 season prematurely.

Those tallies pale in comparison to draft peers like Ollie Wines (107 matches), Jack Macrae (99), Joe Daniher (93), Lachie Whitfield (90), Jake Stringer (89), Jack Viney (88) and Brodie Grundy (82). 

"It's been a long time coming for the club to see me put some games together, so they probably expect a bit more from me next year – and I expect more from myself," Garner said.

"I'll hopefully get a few midfield minutes and really take my game to the next level." 

Watching Garner pluck seven marks, gather 21 disposals and kick a goal on Good Friday against the Western Bulldogs provided a taste of his high-flying antics. 

It also highlighted the area of his game that needs the most work – his kicking. But he insists it has come a long way since his rookie season and remains a priority.

Better was to come a fortnight later, when Garner leaped over teammate Kayne Turner and Docker Garrick Ibbotson to lodge a legitimate Mark of the Year contender.

There was also a nice ride at Blue Harrison Macreadie's expense, and a fearless, Nick Riewoldt-esque grab running with the flight of the ball against Essendon. 

"You've got to love the tricks of the game. Not many can get up there, but I'm fortunate to be one of them," Garner said with a grin.

"That (Ibbotson one) was up there. I've probably taken a few when I was younger, but none on the TV like that. 

"Everyone gets around you when you take a mark like that and it takes the serious side out of it a bit, but we're obviously here to win games as well." 

That latter element is the greatest talking point about North, with the proud club finding itself in a time of transition and absorbing a range of external criticism.

Senior Roo Jamie Macmillan came out hard during the week, saying he and his teammates were "pissed off" and had taken the harsh evaluations "personally". 

Garner, who lives a hop, step and a jump from North's headquarters with close mate Luke McDonald, has heard bits and pieces of the media's take on his side. 

But the boy from Endeavour Hills couldn't care less about their critique. He rarely reads newspapers and you won't find him on Twitter. 

Garner is just intent on repaying the Kangaroos, especially as he slides from guernsey No.27 to No.6 for next season.

Three of the past five wearers – Team of the Century forward John Dugdale and premiership players Shannon Grant and Ian Fairley – played more than 200 games in the number. 

Lachy Hansen donned No.6 most recently, in 138 of his 151 matches.

"I know it's a big number at North, so I just hope I can continue that success with it," Garner said. 

"More importantly, I want to have some team success wearing it."