Walking down the MCG race in Round 1 was the moment it hit me.
It had been 638 days since I last touched the grass during an official AFL match, which had been a long and frustrating journey.
But all that washed away as we warmed up to begin our 2018 campaign, my foot now without the effects that restricted my output in 2016 and ruined the entirety of my 2017 season.
The injury was a strange one. My feet were feeling sore after games during 2016 but that isn’t hugely unusual. It felt like I had a bruised foot so I just thought it was something similar and didn’t take too much notice of it.
I traveled to Perth with the team in Round 17 that year as an emergency and was undertaking a running session the day after our game against Fremantle when I stepped in a pothole.
Immediately, there was a lot of pain and I got a scan the next day that confirmed there was a crack in my navicular bone.
I had the option of getting surgery or letting it heal naturally, with different pros and cons accompanying both. After speaking with the medical team, I decided to go with the surgery because it would ensure the bone was stronger, but unfortunately, it didn’t handle the screws too well, which led to some big setbacks.
I eventually had the screws removed and new ones put in — I had three operations all up.
Rehab was tough. After my first and second surgeries, I was alone a lot in rehab. It was frustrating and difficult for my partner, who saw a less than happy side to me, and myself. At the start, I felt like there wasn’t a whole lot to look forward to.
I’d get to the club and socialise with them but they’d go off for a weights session and I’d be stuck in a moonboot not being to do much. Even after I got out of the boot, my sessions were completely separate so I was still by myself. It can be a boring place.
My third surgery was on the same day as Josh Cowan’s and our schedules matched up so we spent a bit of time together in rehab, which made it easier (although we both would’ve preferred not to be there at all).
Watching the boys play was difficult, especially when things go wrong and you know you’d be able to contribute. They went down in a couple of finals while I was injured and it’s frustrating not being able to help out in those situations.
Dan Menzel has been a big help throughout it all. He always stopped by for a chat and we’d get a coffee — he always made sure to check in around my mental health, which is obviously the part that struggles most in that situation.
The whole playing group were always quick to ensure my head was filled with positive thoughts, too. I was lucky that it didn’t fall on one or two people.
There are positives to come out of all this. I had a fair bit of time to kill so I enrolled in an engineering course and a carpentry course, which have been good for balance and to escape the daily grind.
I also got pretty good at the Star Wars and Call of Duty video games, particularly just after each surgery (but I guess that’s not much of a positive in the scheme of things).
I actually think I’ve become a better footballer due to all the games I’ve watched and through interacting with my teammates. You tend to see these from a different perspective when you’re not on the ground and I’ve picked up some things I wouldn’t necessarily have gotten otherwise.
Everything led to that Sunday two weeks ago where, in Joel Selwood’s 250th game, we just scraped over the line against the Demons. I felt like a new draftee again. Total relief, especially because of how the game ended but I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face.
And the best part? It’s just the beginning.