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AFL Players: Dal's little helper

Nick Dal Santo running during the Roos' first training session on Tuesday.

The following blog was published on aflplayers.com.au

2015 was one of the biggest years of my life, and not just from a football perspective.

It was the year I became a father for the first time, coinciding with my first long-term injury and a second consecutive preliminary final for North Melbourne.

So at the end of the season, our family of three made the trip to Port Douglas and Palm Cove for a two-week break.

My wife and I have been up there a few times.

Usually, we’d go there during the mid-year break, to get away from the Melbourne winter for four or five nights.

But having a baby meant a shorter plane ride was in order – rather than the traditional end-of-year trip overseas.

Palm Cove and Port Douglas are my favourite places in Australia. It’s pretty nice up that way with 30-degree weather and beautiful restaurants.

This year’s trip was all about relaxing. We’d get up and have breakfast, go for a walk to get a milkshake or a coffee down the main street and then have some pool time in between my son’s naps.

It was actually the shortest trip I’ve done during an off-season, but it was the perfect getaway before footy starts all over again.

We officially start pre-season training on Tuesday. With that comes thoughts of last season.

But I’d be lying if I said the way the season ended hadn’t been on my mind at different stages in the last two months.

I do my own training away from the club for about five to six weeks, and when you go for a run or do a bike or weights session, you can’t help but think about what happened last year and how we can get better in 2016.

We’ve been really competitive for the two years I’ve been at North. We had our ups and downs within the 2015 home and away season, but improved throughout it. We have little lapses that we need to improve on, and we need to become more consistent on a week-to-week basis.

I don’t think we need to drastically change anything next year but we just need to get more consistent. We have some really good performances but we have weeks where we’re a little bit off and you can’t do that at this level.

I think our finals performances have been really impressive. But finishing outside the top four twice, even though we’ve ended up playing in preliminary finals, I still think there’s a gap between where we are right now and competing in Grand Finals against the likes of Hawthorn.

We naturally play a finals brand of football throughout the season, which I think has allowed us to cause finals upsets two years in a row.

We have a lot of guys who play that hard, inside and contested brand of footy and we’ve been able to execute on the day, which has put us in winning positions in September.

But on the flip side, we’ve lost two prelims. We got smashed by Sydney in 2014 and didn’t capitalise on our opportunities early against the Eagles this year, and they were too good of an outfit in the end.

Sometimes you have to lose some big games to understand what you need to do to win them and we’ll be better for the experience in the long run.

On a personal note, I’ve absolutely loved the change of environment, since arriving at the club at the end of 2013. I love the way North Melbourne has embraced me and where the club is headed.

While it was frustrating having hamstring surgery in Round 2 – my first major injury in 14 years, I found that being on the sidelines for an extended period gave me a different perspective on the game.

I was really excited and hungry to get back involved in the second half of the year and that’s flowed into this pre-season, where I’ve brought in a bit of injury prevention to help strengthen my body in different areas. It’s something I haven’t done much in previous years.

The formalities of preseason begin this week, as we begin to build towards what will hopefully be an even bigger 2016 season.