Dees star Clayton Oliver cleared for AFL season opener

Shayne Hope |

After a challenging few months, Clayton Oliver (l) will line up for Melbourne against the Swans.
After a challenging few months, Clayton Oliver (l) will line up for Melbourne against the Swans.

Melbourne coach Simon Goodwin says Clayton Oliver’s personal challenges will be an ongoing battle for the foreseeable future as the troubled star prepares to line up in the AFL season opener.

Goodwin has confirmed Oliver will play in the SCG blockbuster against Sydney on Thursday night despite a turbulent off-season.

The 26-year-old spent time away from his teammates over the summer and has had just two VFL hit-outs on limited minutes to prepare for his senior return.

But Goodwin is convinced Oliver is ready to go after six weeks of full training with the Demons’ main group and is proud of the four-time best-and-fairest winner’s physical and mental progress.

Melbourne Demons head coach Simon goodwin at a press conferece.
Oliver is happy and healthy ahead of the new season, Demons coach Simon Goodwin (pictured) says. (Joel Carrett/AAP PHOTOS)

“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.”

Oliver missed almost three months with a hamstring injury last year and was the subject of post-season trade speculation.

He was hospitalised after a medical episode in October and left a December pre-season camp early for personal reasons.

Oliver then spent several weeks training away from his teammates, leaving Goodwin with serious concerns in January about whether the prolific ball-winner would get back in time for the start of the season.

“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.

“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 debut against Sydney.

Former St Kilda midfielder Jack Billings is also set to play his first game for Melbourne.

Jack Billings.
Jack Billings is poised for his Demons debut after his move from St Kilda. (Daniel Pockett/AAP PHOTOS)

“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.

The Demons will be without Kysaiah Pickett (suspended), while injured trio Shane McAdam (calf, two weeks), Harrison Petty (toe, two weeks) and Lachie Hunter (calf, three weeks) are also unavailable.

“We’re trying to build all those guys into a position where they can sustain the whole season and we’re really confident in that,” Goodwin said.