There's not many footy players that would start pre-season training two weeks after winning a premiership, but James Bell is a man on a mission.
The former Swans forward has a fire in his belly as he aims to get a second chance in the AFL system.
Claiming the South Australian National Football League title with Glenelg capped an incredible 12-month journey for Bell, who has ridden all of the highs and lows in football during that period.
It started at the lowest point for the Shellharbour junior when he was delisted by the Swans. A 2017 Rookie Draft selection, Bell played 28 AFL in four seasons before the club informed him in late 2022 that he would not receive a new contract.
"It was really tough, I felt like I was a bit hard done by. There was a bit of hope that I would get a re-rookie spot and that dragged out for quite some time, and I was left in limbo for a little while," Bell exclusively told the Mercury this week.
"But my manager was really good during that time and he said 'we've got other options if it doesn't work out."
Another key person in Bell's life was his former Swans teammate and good friend, Toby Pink.
The tall defender had also been delisted by Sydney in 2019, but was able to find a new home at SANFL club Glenelg. Pink - who has is reportedly close to getting a second chapter in the AFL with North Melbourne - was integral in luring the 24-year-old over to Adelaide.
It's a move that proved great for all parties. Bell played 20 games for the Bays in 2023 and drove them towards winning this year's premiership, which they achieved with a 13.8 (86) to 8.14 (62) win over Sturt in the recent grand final.
"It was obviously good to get the reward at the end after a pretty solid year. I went over not really knowing what to expect from the SANFL comp. I obviously knew it was a strong competition, but it was a bit of a shock at how competitive and contested it is," he said.
"We set out a vision from day one of pre-season and, if anything went pear-shaped, we had a good foundation to fall back onto. And we didn't over-complicate things. We kept it really steady."
His 2023 success has now lit a fuse under Bell as he strives to get a second chance in the AFL.
After nominating for - and missing out - in May's AFL Mid-Season Rookie Draft, the crafty forward has kicked off pre-season training early in a bid to give himself the best chance of being picked up again.
"I think moving away has opened my eyes in terms of what it takes (to play at top level)," Bell said.
"Moving away and doing a part-time job as well has taken a lot of pressure off what the footy lifestyle can be because when I was in Sydney, I put a lot of pressure on myself to perform each week. I was not giving myself a pat on the back if I did play a good game, I always critiquing everything. But since moving over here, I've found love for the game again.
"That's all I wanted to take out of this year. Winning a premiership was a bonus, but I didn't really want to focus on anything but enjoying footy again. I've been able to tick that off and now I feel like I've got a good run up to give it all I've got to give without putting pressure on myself to be picked up again."
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