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Anatomy of a debut — Sam Skinner

After 12 months and plenty of ups and downs, my dream finally came true on Sunday.

Strangely, I was meant to make my debut on the exact same date against Port Adelaide last year. A year ago on the Thursday prior to the game, I was getting messages for all the right reasons and then a day later for all the wrong reasons after I hyperextended my knee, tearing my ACL.

It was a huge emotional roller coaster. I knew I was set to debut but then I was told I wasn’t going to be fit again for at least nine months.

The experience was hard to deal with at the time, especially seeing the boys walk out and knowing I was supposed to be alongside them for the first time.

It wasn’t my first knee reconstruction — I arrived at the club at the end of 2015 recovering from my first round of surgery.

Mel and Craig Lambert supported me in my first year — and haven’t stopped caring — while Andrew Crowell has been huge since coming to the club at the beginning of the year.

But the person who has helped me the most is Selwyn Griffith, our strength and conditioning coach who’s played an integral role with not only my knee’s rehabilitation but also the mental side of being a professional athlete.

Despite having put my injury troubles behind me, he remains a close mate. He is always up for a chat and is always checking in with me — we have formed a good relationship over the past two years.

I wasn’t expecting to play at the beginning of the week and it wasn’t until Thursday night that I found out.

After training I was having a few set shots and ‘Fages’ called me and told me I would be going over to Western Australia to make my debut.

We went into the change rooms and he told all the boys and staff who were there. It was a little difficult to not play the game in my head before it had started but being able to chat to experienced players such as Dayne Beams, who have played plenty of footy, I was able to relax and enjoy it a bit more.

The coaches have made it easier for me and have instilled it into us that we only need to play our role.

Playing in front of a parochial West Coast crowd was pretty daunting. I hadn’t played in front of anything close to the 30,000 strong crowd that was there. It was a brand new experience and, if I’m honest, I found it a little nerve-racking.

I had 16 supporters from my family and friends over there who made the trek, which made it extra special. It meant a lot to me because they’ve been there right throughout the journey.

On the field, being aggressive is one of my strengths and it felt good to lay a tackle on Will Schofield in the pocket. Releasing that aggression early was vital in helping me settle into the game.

While we didn’t get the result we were after, there was still some special moments that I’ll cherish forever. One of those was kicking my first goal.

Initially nothing went through my head when the ball went through. I couldn’t really see the goals because the sun was in my eyes but having all the boys get around me was a huge sense of joy and relief.

I’ve been used more as a defender since coming to the club and played as a forward for the first time in the NEAFL last week. I wasn’t focused on kicking goals, I was more focused on playing my role for the team — something I try to do every time I go out there.

I’ve still got a lot to learn in defence and in attack but feel my experience down back has helped me understand the forward role, especially when it comes to things like positioning and where to lead. It’s been a different role that I’ve really enjoyed in the last couple of weeks.

As a 20-year-old, I understand there is still a lot for me to learn about the game. There may only be four weeks left but as an AFL group we are striving to win all four games and I want to continue developing my game.

My journey is just beginning and I’m excited for what the future holds.