HUGH McCluggage and Willem Drew might be rivals on the AFL field but it doesn't stop the two long-time mates from helping each other out.
The Hampden league exports went for a pre-season run together in Warrnambool on Monday, November 13, 2023 before teaming up to run a football clinic for Warrnambool College students.
The pair, both 25, played for opposing sides as youngsters - McCluggage for South Warrnambool and Drew for Koroit - before becoming classmates at Ballarat Clarendon College.
They were among seven Hampden league exports snapped up in the 2016 AFL drafts.
Five of those players - McCluggage, Drew, Fremantle's Sean Darcy, St Kilda's Rowan Marshall and West Coast's Jamaine Jones - remain in the system.
"My first memories are playing against Drewy in the under 14s or under 16s and then we played (GWV) Rebels together, went to school together and have lined up on each other a couple of times in the AFL," McCluggage told The Standard.
"It's a bit of an odd experience but it's been a bit of fun. Drewy has played pretty well against us a couple of times.
"I remember one game he had a fair bit of the ball and then in the final he shut down (two-time Brownlow medallist) Lach (Neale).
"I love keeping a close eye on how Drewy is going and it makes it more interesting when you watch Port - when you know players you have a vested interest in what they're doing.
"We keep in touch, we have a lot of old school friends from Ballarat and then when we're back home we usually try and get together and do a run."
Drew is in awe of what McCluggage has achieved in his 155 games for the Lions.
"He is one of the top players in the comp and been in All-Australian squads and played in the grand final this year," he said.
"I think growing up with him and knowing him as a bloke, it's great reward for effort and how professional he is."
The pair spent an hour teaching Warrnambool College's year 10 football class and a year 7 SPP (Sporting Pathway Program) at Mack Oval.
Teacher Adam Dowie taught McCluggage before he left for boarding school and coached Drew at Koroit.
"I have come down a couple of times now to help out in the off-season and we don't do too much but if a couple of kids enjoy it and take a bit from it I guess we've done our job," McCluggage said.
Drew will return to Adelaide on November 14 while McCluggage will fly back to Queensland four days later.
Neither is due back for pre-season training until early December but both are keen to return with a strong fitness base as the Lions look to atone for a narrow grand final defeat to Collingwood and the Power try and avenge a straight sets finals exit.
McCluggage, who spent two weeks overseas in America, is bullish about the Lions' prospects but knows it will be a challenge to get back into a premiership-contending position.
"I am just excited to get back into it now. It took a little bit to get over that game. It was so close and a pretty crazy game to be a part of," he said of the grand final.
"We obviously did a lot right to get to where we did but there's a lot of work to do to get back to that position.
"I think the game is trending towards a real running game so we need to improve our fitness once again, not that it was at a bad level, but I think every club is in that boat at this time of year, just trying to improve the basics."
Drew, who has played 81 games after an injury-plagued start to his career, said recruits Esava Ratugolea, Jordan Sweet and Brandon Zerk-Thatcher would help the Power's cause.
"We have picked up a fair few new players, so they will come in and really help us," he said.
"Last year finals were a bit disappointing. We'll use that as motivation to bring into pre-season."
Drew, who spent three weeks in the off-season in London visiting his brother and sister, is grateful for the faith coach Ken Hinkley - also from the Hampden league - has shown in him.
"I am really enjoying it and trying to make the most of the opportunity. I guess early on wasn't ideal (with injuries) but you learn a lot from it," he said.
"I am just really happy to be playing footy and doing it as a job."