Oleg Markov has never wanted to be anything he’s not.

He’s outgoing, vibrant, funny to some, but most of all authentic.

And when he arrived at the Pies at the start of 2023 in the effort to win one of the final list spots, that’s exactly what he was able to be.

And it made life, and football, a lot easier for him.

“It makes every day effortless. I don’t need to put on a mask or a persona,” Markov said of the Collingwood environment.

“The boys used to laugh about it when I used to say ‘I’m not Tom Cruise’ earlier in the year, but I just get to come in and be myself.

“My strike rate for jokes isn’t very good, a lot of them don’t hit, but the boys just love the fact that I back it up and try again.

“The boys have caught me in a safety net and allowed me to be me and it just makes life so easy.

“The boys know my true colours and it’s one less stressful thing I don’t have to deal with.”

That summer period was stressful in some ways though, as he battled for a rookie deal without any stability behind him.

But despite the uncertainty, the 27-year-old says it was a time where he learnt more about himself than ever before, embracing each day as if it was his last.

“The most stressed I’ve ever been was that period of not having a job and training on…but it was the most I’ve ever learned about myself,” he said.

“For those two months I’ve never been more present and happy, and I lived every day to the fullest just because I didn’t know when the end was going to come.

“The next step when I did get the contract and I knew I was going to be there for the year, I didn’t want to sink back into comfort and complacency.

“I didn’t want to drop off and I kept that mindset of almost faking it until I make it. I’m not given a spot, I’m not given tomorrow, and I need to train like every day is my last.

“I grew as not only a footballer but as a person.”

Markov’s relationship with coach Craig McRae has been key to that, with the pair’s journey beginning years ago together.

“He’s always one to put footy second and always asks about me as a person first and how I’m going,” Markov said of McRae.

“I’ve said it before but I don’t really see him as a coach, I see him as a mentor and someone I can reach out to when things happen in my life.

“He’s just such a nurturing and kind soul so I’m really lucky to have someone like him because he was for a period of time there my VFL coach for so many years and I think that was a key part to my development and my growth as a person.

“I was away from my own father so he was there for me in those times, especially when footy wasn’t really going my way he was always the shoulder for me to lean on.”

Grand Final day was something Markov had never experienced before, so it’s no surprise his energy was high.

But when things got tense, and Markov was stuck on the bench, nerves almost got the better of him.

“The moment where they have the last line and once that finishes (the National Anthem), the roar was just something else,” he said.

“I know I turned around and did a little spring after and I think I hit a PB in my sprint that’s how much energy I had.

“I’d never felt anything like it and I don’t think I ever will, 100,000 people screaming at you is pretty special. I’m glad most of them were black and white.

“I got stuck on the bench for a few extra minutes and I actually felt helpless. The ball got stuck on the other side and I’ve never felt that sick in my life, I wanted to throw up.

“I was meant to get on at six minutes and it just dragged on to 10 and I just couldn’t get on. I was like ‘please don’t vomit, I don’t need the coach seeing this’.”

It all worked out though, with Markov becoming a premiership player for Collingwood – only seven months after securing his place in the locker room.

“I was in disbelief when the siren went and I remember looking down and the moment it went I had no idea what happened,” he said.

“I saw a handful of the Brisbane boys fall down on their backs and a few of our boys fall down and I just remember turning around and Howey is sprinting at me.

“That first initial hug was a sign of relief, I felt light, I felt there was nothing that was going to faze me at all and that feeling just stayed and I just couldn’t believe what happened.

“I honestly felt like an astronaut just floating around.”

Oleg Markov’s 2023 stats:

  • Played in the most games and wins of his career
  • Signed on as an SSP rookie after training with both Collingwood and Carlton in the summer