It’s the time of year again where supporters of all clubs are alert for any mention of training reports, but not only to keep track of their young stars’ development.

Although the months before the AFL season kicks off give teams the chance to fine tune tactics and develop general skills, every pre-season training session is make-or-break. We’ve seen the success Collingwood had in 2011 – despite not winning the premiership, Collingwood beat every team in the AFL other than Geelong – by making use of its Arizona training camp, but something as simple as one wrong turn during a routine tackling drill could spell the end before the season even begins.

Consider this; the 2012 premiership favourites Collingwood are having an excellent pre-season, going through the motions and eyeing a third consecutive Grand Final appearance. Two weeks before the NAB Cup is set to begin, Dane Swan tears his anterior cruciate ligament and put in bubble wrap until Round 17.

Later in the week at training, Dale Thomas and Scott Pendlebury collide in a mid-air contest. Thomas fractures his wrist in a missed attempt at spoiling the ball and Pendlebury gets a nasty knock to the back of the head. Suddenly, a promising season turns into no Swan for most of the year, no Thomas until roughly Round 4 and Scott Pendlebury misses the first three games of the NAB Cup/Challenge. Although Collingwood have excellent depth, losing three key players in one week is sure to have a negative effect.

On the other hand, the pre-season can expose a gentle giant ready to make a shock run at winning the premiership, akin to West Coast’s 2011 effort. In the space twelve months, the Eagles went from claiming the wooden spoon to playing of in a Preliminary Final. Going hand-in-hand with a good draft period, a lot of their success can be accredited to a solid pre-season.

The NAB Cup can be both an excellent catalyst towards a successful campaign or a huge stumbling block on the patch to the home and away season. Getting fitness into seasoned legs is always helpful, but as we’ve seen in the past, most clubs are more inclined to focus on training and keeping the majority of their stars wrapped in cotton wool during the pre-season competition.

Although the long wait between the final siren of the Grand Final and the first bounce in Round 1 of the next season is somewhat of a bore, there’s never a lack of drama. There may not be a whole lot to see, but every training session contributes to how the season will shape up for that team. In a competition that seems to get more competitive each season, one bad injury can be the difference between premiership glory and despair.