Melbourne Demons star Clayton Oliver has taken a massive step forward in his preparations for the upcoming AFL season after joining the rest of his squad for pre-season training for the first time in 2024. The troubled Melbourne midfielder was granted extended leave in December to deal with personal issues after a 2023 season punctuated by a number of off-field issues.
The 26-year-old trained on his own at Melbourne's Gosch's Paddock on Monday but took to the paddock with the rest of his teammates on Wednesday, in what was the first hit-out with the main playing group this year. The club's four-time best-and-fairest did not attend the club's photo day on Tuesday, but his presence on Wednesday will come as a major relief for the club's coaching staff and fans.
Oliver had not trained with the Demons playing group since leaving a December pre-season camp in Lorne to deal with "personal" and "medical" issues", according to the club. "Clayton has personal issues that he has been dealing with," Demons football boss Alan Richardson said at the time. "Clayton has been working extremely closely with his personal medical team, and with the support of key club staff, in order to manage these challenges."
There had been mounting concerns about when Oliver would return to the Demons, with his future at the club coming under a massive cloud. The 26-year-old has battled injuries and medical issues in the last 12 months, and questions have also been raised about his off-field behaviour and professionalism but Wednesday's training images have left fans thrilled.
— Joshua Dawe (@joshuadawe9) January 30, 2024
— Nat Edwards (@Nat_Edwards) January 30, 2024
Good to see, and good luck to him.
On the football side, I've looked up his record and geez it's impressive.
— Luke (@Luke5557725) January 30, 2024
Clayton Oliver will train with Melbourne today, on a modified program with the rehab group, per @mattforrest29
You love to see it 😍
— MyHeartBeatsTrue (@melbournefans) January 30, 2024
Brings a tear to your eye! #13
— Martin (@martinrush22) January 30, 2024
The three-time All-Australian was limited to 15 games for the Demons last season due to a hamstring injury and was powerless to help the 2021 premiers from slumping to their second consecutive AFL finals exit in straight sets. Despite signing a massive seven-year extension that's set to keep him at the club until 2030, Oliver also found himself at the centre of speculation he could be set for a trade away from Melbourne.
Clayton Oliver endured a tumultuous 2023
Melbourne ultimately decided not to put their star midfielder on the trade table but Demons coach Simon Goodwin and club CEO Gary Pert both issued a warning to the 26-year-old about lifting his standards. Amid his ongoing personal issues, Oliver spent some time living with Demons captain Max Gawn and his wife Jessica, weeks before she gave birth to the couple's second child.
Oliver was admitted to hospital in October in what was described as a "medical episode" and pulled over by police on November 16, when he was charged with driving on a suspended licence. Oliver has been unable to drive on medical grounds since he was hospitalised following that seizure on October 12, which he partially attributed to side effects from his ADHD medication. He is due to face court on February 6.
The culture at the Melbourne club has repeatedly come under fire in recent months, with utility Joel Smith also copping a provisional suspension for recording a positive in-season drugs test for cocaine. Melbourne Demons great David Schwarz issued a scathing assessment of his former club earlier this month.
“There’s just too much smoke around Melbourne at the moment,” he said on 3AW radio. “The Joel Smith (positive drugs test), there’s been board issues and Clayton’s issues. There’s just something not right down there at Melbourne, I don’t know what it is ... some of the choices Melbourne players are making are the wrong choices, for whatever reason that is.
“I’m not blaming the captain, coach or the club, just looking from the outside in – there’s clearly choices being made by players that are selfish and would indicate that it is not a really happy environment at the moment. Because things like this don’t happen in good clubs, they just don’t. I know there’s great people at every footy club, but there’s just something missing at Melbourne at the moment and I think it’s a bit of a concern for supporters that all the news coming out is not positive.”
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