Balance found by McCluggage on and off the ground
AS DEDICATED as Hugh McCluggage is to improving his game, it's important for him to occasionally take his head out of it.
A balanced work life is key to the rise and rise of the hard-running Brisbane midfielder.
"I've been trying all sorts of different things to get away from footy and relax," the 21-year-old says.
There's "a little bit of study", by way of a business diploma and a coaching course.
"And I like to play golf on my days off. There's about 10 or 12 of us at Brisbane Golf Club," he says.
"That's how I've got to know the older boys ... you spend four or five hours out there, pretty much you and them."
And then there's float tanks, otherwise known as sensory deprivation.
"Lachie Neale got the boys into that," McCluggage explains. "He used to do it over in Perth. He found a spot here and said you should come along and try it.
"You just hop in there for an hour, and just float. There's some sort of salts and magnesium and stuff like that.
"You just get an hour to yourself, really ... I enjoy it."
If what McCluggage is achieving on the field is any guide, what he's doing off it is working wonders.
In just his third season, the wingman has been integral to the Lions' surge up the ladder - at 14-5, they could be in top spot after this round if results go their way - and surely will be up for All-Australian honours.
He needs just three disposals in today's QClash against the Gold Coast Suns to become only the second player this season, after Fremantle's Michael Walters, to notch at least 400 disposals and kick 20 or more goals.
"I always try and tell myself, and the coaches drive it into us, constant improvement," McCluggage says.
"If I can't get my hands on the ball, then my pressure might be all right or I can kick a goal. I have other avenues to impact a game, which is what has improved since last year.
"You can definitely sit back and appreciate your improvement, but for me there's a long way to go still. I'm excited about what I can do next to try and make my game better again."
It was a steep learning curve for the humble kid from country Victoria. Like any young player, he received his share of constructive criticism.
"You see things on TV you might not particularly want to see," he says. "For my first year or two, my pressure and my tackling probably wasn't up to standard.
"You'd have some (review) sessions where you see yourself not going as hard as you possibly could. It hits home.
"You take it a bit personally, which is a good thing. You don't want it to happen again.
"Those sorts of things stick out. They've helped me grow as a player."
Essendon's Andy McGrath spoke yesterday about dealing with the pressure that came with being the No.1 pick in the national draft.
McCluggage was touted as a possible top pick in the same class of 2016, but had slid to No.3 before the Lions pounced.
It was a blessing for all, especially the kid who grew up on a dairy farm in Allansford, just out of Warrnambool.
"I think so. That and moving up to Brisbane, not in that footy bubble," McCluggage says.
"For someone like me - from a smaller town, not used to that Melbourne environment - it was good to just come up to Brisbane.
"You've even seen with Cam (Rayner, the No.1 pick in 2017), you do get that extra pressure when you do go No.1.
"It's great when you're doing well, but when you're not it can be a little bit tough."
McCluggage is happy to keep as low a profile as his, and the team's, growing fame will allow.
Is he getting recognised on Brisbane streets yet?
"Not so much me, but when I'm with Cam (Rayner) or Hippy (Eric Hipwood), someone more recognisable. I don't quite have the haircut, the one feature that stands out," he says.
"I was actually with Cam at the supermarket just then and someone asked for a photo. Little things like that are happening a little bit more. It's good.
"If you're in your Lions kit, people just want to say well done.
"They're just happy that the team is going well again."
The Lions will be aiming for their third-best winning streak - eight games - when they host the Suns.
With the Suns sitting last, the two teams have never before been further apart on the ladder, but like any QClash the game will be intense.
With Brisbane sitting third, and a finals lock, it's now all about finishing as high as possible, with mouth-watering games against Geelong and Richmond to come.
"You can't really look ahead to finals," McCluggage says, "because you've pretty much got three finals, in a way, coming up before you even get there, which is awesome preparation for us."