Ruck-star lifestyle suits Zac Smith in 'Sleepy Hollow'
ZAC Smith can't go too far in AFL-mad Geelong without being recognised.
It's a far cry from his home town of Rockhampton, deep in the heart of league territory where few would know who he was if they passed him on the street.
"Yeah, it's a little bit different down here," said the Cats' towering ruckman.
"A lot of people hang around the club especially. As you're walking in they will want a photo or want something signed.
"They are pretty desperate sometimes. But I love it."
Born in Biloela, the 27-year-old has been soaking up the lifestyle along Victoria's Bellarine Peninsula.
"It's a really great environment, a really great community down here in Geelong," he said.
"The people obviously thrive on the footy club. It's really the heartbeat of the town.
"And it's a really cool feeling ... win or lose, the town rides that with you. They are all in for the club.
"That's one thing I've really been enjoying."
After making 65 senior appearances across six seasons with the Gold Coast, Smith has added 42 in two years at Geelong.
"On the Goldy, it really depended on whether you're winning or losing," he recalled.
"I remember we had a pretty good run there for a while and the town was up and about
"Then everyone sort of jumped ship when you're not having a great season. It was pretty brutal."
"Sleepy Hollow", as Geelong is known, will be on the edge of its seat tonight when its beloved Cats contest a cut-throat semi-final against Sydney at the MCG.
They are aiming to avoid both an eighth defeat in their past 10 finals, following last week's mauling by the Tigers, and a fourth straight loss to the Swans.
"It was obviously disappointing," Smith said of the qualifying final defeat. "But we moved on pretty quickly to be honest. You really have to.
"You can't just dwell on it because we've got another massive challenge on our hands this Friday.
"We had a brief review of last week's game and now look towards the Swans."
Sydney knocked the Cats out of the finals last season and won its last match in Geelong in round 20.
"One thing I remember from those last couple of times we played was we just didn't start well," Smith said. "That will be a big focus for us."
The Swans have kicked a combined 18 goals to five in the first quarter of those past three wins over the Cats.
"I know if we start well we're going to be in the majority of the game," Smith said. "We're the best finishing team in the competition.
"We're really confident that if we play to our structure ... the way we want to play, we're going to be all right."
The 206cm Smith will be crucial tonight in his battle against Sam Naismith and Callum Sinclair.
"It's going to be a good contest," he said. "I've got to make sure I get on top and give the boys first use."
Statistically, Smith is enjoying his best season - up in the areas of disposals (averaging 14), hit-outs (32) and clearances (four).
He was one of the team's best in the loss to Richmond.
"I think I have been more consistent this year," he said.
"Just having those couple of finals under my belt from last year really helped going into this year's series.
"It really is a different environment ... the build-up to it, the intensity, the crowd and everything.
"In saying that, I'm not going to rest on my laurels.
"I don't think it was a fantastic performance from an individual's perspective and obviously the team's.
"I'm pretty fired up to perform for the boys this week."
As well as working closely with them on the field, Smith has become close to the Selwood brothers, Joel and Scott.
Of the skipper Joel he said: "What I can say? He's a really good guy off the field. He's just straight forward. He tells you how it is.
"We'll get a coffee every now and then and talk about footy and life or whatever.
"He's really good support if you're struggling with something."
Smith, whose parents now reside in Brisbane but still has a sister in Rockhampton, is now fully entrenched in Geelong as a "local" with wife Aimee.
There's certainly no regrets about the move from the Gold Coast in 2015.
"I thought it was going to be the best thing for me at the time," he said.
"My wife and I moved down and saw it as an adventure."
Smith is just hoping that adventure will include contesting another preliminary final next week.