DUAL Koroit premiership player Joe McLaren plans to extend his senior Hampden league career beyond this season.
The 36-year-old plays his 200th senior match with the Saints tomorrow — 21 seasons after he made his debut as a 15-year-old.
“Oh geez yeah, I’m going around again,” McLaren vowed. “It’s never crossed my mind to hang the boots up yet.”
McLaren is nearing the 400-game senior milestone, having played 69 AFL games with St Kilda and North Melbourne between 1996 and 2001 and two seasons in the Western Australian Football League with South Fremantle before returning to Koroit after a decade away.
But he is showing no signs of slowing down.
McLaren, who turns 37 in December, revealed he was remarkably fit and loving his new role across half-back.
He said an interrupted pre-season before 2013, combined with playing permanently as a forward, caused his fitness to wane.
“I was really frustrated at the end of the last year not being able to have the impact I wanted to have in a grand final,” he said.
“When I spoke to Wiggsy (coach Adam Dowie) I said I didn’t want to play at full-forward this year and he said ‘that’s fine, you will need to get fitter’.”
McLaren joined captain Isaac Templeton in CrossFit sessions.
“I lost nine kilograms from my playing weight,” he said.
“You learn a few things along the way. It’s a young bloke’s game nowadays and they are really fit and fast.
“The days of pumping weights and getting bigger are well and truly over. It’s all about getting the weight off and being able to run.
“I can’t catch some of them now but I haven’t lost too much of my speed. I’m not saying I’m quick but I’ve still got a little bit of pace there.”
While his younger brother Chris often plays a key post beside him, Joe uses his run and penetrating kicking skills to create from half-back — a position he regards as his favourite.
McLaren said he had been fortunate with no serious injuries in his career.
The former premiership coach, who is renowned for avoiding stretching, said rehabilitation, including dips in icy water and rub downs from Koroit masseur Daryl Wilson, were critical.
“You don’t see a rabbit stretching before he runs fast,” McLaren laughed. “And you don’t see him sitting in an ice bath down his burrow.”
But McLaren said he understood the need for warm-ups.
“I don’t like sitting around doing stretches. My flexibility is terrible. I’ve never been able to touch my toes,” he said.
McLaren milks cows on his family’s farm, loves his young family, lives for footy and everything that goes with it — the mateship, the physical and mental challenges and success.
He rates playing alongside brothers Chris and Liam in Koroit’s 2007 premiership as a highlight, along with coaching the Saints to the 2009 flag.
“I just love playing footy. It’s just something I’ve always done,” he said. “When I was a young fella all I wanted to do was play footy.
“I love going to training. For me it’s a little time away.
“You get around the lads, Ethyn and Tauryn Zimmer, we have a lot of fun.
“I enjoy having a good time as most people do but there is a serious side. When it’s time to get serious, I get serious.”
McLaren said he was fortunate to have the support of wife Sarah, their daughters Tahlia, 8, and Ella, 5, and his dad Brian, who were understanding when it came to football commitments that include being Koroit’s under 18½s coach and an assistant with Victoria Country.