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Melbourne Demons receive major Clayton Oliver boost ahead of AFL season opener

The embattled Demons star will line up against Sydney on Thursday night.

Melbourne coach Simon Goodwin has confirmed Clayton Oliver will be in the team to take on the Sydney Swans in the season opener despite a turbulent off-season. The Demons coach admitted the midfielder's personal challenges would be an ongoing battle for the foreseeable future but said Oliver has done everything that has been asked of him as the side gears up for the 2024 AFL season.

The 26-year-old has been battling several personal and mental health issues but appears to be on the right track. The situation during the off-season got to the point where captain Max Gawn invited Oliver to live in his family home - at the point when his wife Jessica was heavily pregnant - and Oliver also spent some time away from the side in December and January to get himself right.

Pictured Clayton Oliver
Melbourne coach Simon Goodwin says Clayton Oliver's personal challenges will be an ongoing battle but he is ready to go for the AFL season opener. Image: Getty

Oliver's difficult offseason began with being admitted to hospital in October in what was labelled a "medical episode". He was then pulled over by police on November 16 and charged with driving on a suspended licence. The Demon had been unable to drive on medical grounds since being hospitalised following that seizure on October 12, which he partially attributed to side effects from his ADHD medication.

But since returning to training in January, Goodwin has been impressed with the 26-year-old. And despite only having two hit-outs on limited minutes in pre-season, the Demons coach is convinced the four-time best-and-fairest winner is ready to go.

"It's been a pretty long process to first and foremost get Clayton healthy. That has been a process, but it's one that we've taken as a footy club," Goodwin said on Monday. "We've addressed some things and we've gone about a process to get him to this point. It's not finished but he's healthy, he's happy and he's ready.

"We're united and connected as a footy team and that's been a big part of our summer. He's a big part of that. "He's done everything we could've asked of him ... to get himself into this position and he's right to go."

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - FEBRUARY 18: Clayton Oliver of the Demons in action during the AFL 2024 Match Simulation between Melbourne and Richmond at Casey Fields on February 18, 2024 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)
Clayton Oliver impressed during a match simulation between Melbourne and Richmond. (Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

Simon Goodwin admits he had his doubts about Clayton Oliver's return

Goodwin admits he wasn't sure if Oliver was going to be fit enough to play in round one after spending time away from the team in the off-season but applauded his determination to get himself right. "There were no guarantees on anything. There were certainly some doubts on whether he'd get himself to this position," Goodwin said.

"He's worked incredibly hard with a lot of people, with a lot of support from people within our footy club and some external people, and got himself into a really happy and healthy place, and fit. He's looking really strong out there at training, he's looked strong in the match sims that we've had out there in the VFL.

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"We should be proud and celebrate where he's got to at this point. We know those challenges aren't finished but we are united, we are connected and he's a part of our footy team. We're really proud of him."

As well as confirming Oliver's opening-round selection, Goodwin said top draft pick Caleb Windsor and 2021 draftee Blake Howes will make their debuts against Sydney. Former St Kilda midfielder Jack Billings is also confirmed as part of the team to take on the Swans. "We've got three guys there that are really exciting players for our footy club and guys that our supporters will love to come and watch," Goodwin said.

with AAP

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