It’s hard to explain what the last 12 months have been like.
So much emotion, passion and commitment goes into playing in the AFL so when your body refuses to do it regularly, that emotion manifests into frustration, stress and anger.
There might be speculation that injured players go away, do their rest and rehab and come back bigger and better but there’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes. The setbacks, trials and tribulations and so much hard work and patience can take its toll.
In Hobart during our Round 3 game against North Melbourne last year, I was tackled from behind and a player fell onto my ankle.
I remember hearing or feeling a pop but, honestly, everything felt okay — I actually jogged off the ground. When the docs mentioned it might be a syndesmosis injury, I was in disbelief. I thought I was okay to go back on the ground.
After a few tests in the rooms, we pulled the pin for the day and not long afterwards it was confirmed that I’d miss nine weeks through injury.
It’s a slow build from there. I was in a moonboot first, on crutches next before steadily progressing to walking and running on the AlterG machine — there were five or six weeks before I even ran outside.
A lot of cross training is involved, swimming, cycling and boxing, but I managed to make it through to nine weeks pretty well.
Little did I know that it was going to come crumbling down again when I finally progressed to some contact drills on a Saturday morning.
Another tackle from behind, another player landing on the ankle, another stint on the sidelines — this one would be longer.
The ankle was completely destroyed. It was painful, unlike last time, so I knew I did something bad. I underwent a total repair of the syndesmosis and a bit of work on my cartilage as well.
This one would take 12 to 14 weeks to get right, which was a lot worse than I hoped.
The process this time would be slower and my ankle played up throughout it. I still hoped to get back for finals, that was my motivation, but that goal slowly faded with each setback.
The mind games are enormous. Luckily, for me (obviously not for him) Will Setterfield was in rehab with me throughout my first injury. It was good having him through that process of doing rehab. Being 31 and Will being 19, we built a great relationship that probably wouldn’t have happened.
But the second time, there were still a few guys there but they slowly went back to training and I was the only bloke in rehab. That made it tough.
You don’t feel a part of the place. You come in, do what you need to do and go home. The club and the boys were always keen to get me involved but, whether I liked it or not, I wasn’t running out there on the weekend.
Some days were really, really frustrating and I would’ve shown a bit of anger. Luckily, I had so much support around me, which made it easier — there are many great people around the place and I wouldn’t have gotten through without them.
They were some dark times, though.
Two aspects of the journey were the toughest. Doing the same thing every day, while necessary, is a mental grind and the hiccups along the way.
Some days, I’d feel great and everything would be tracking along as planned but after one training session, the ankle would feel horrible — those setbacks were tough to take.
I thought it’d be a relatively smooth transition and I’d make it back for finals but then I’d have a hiccup and that’d push it back two weeks. You can imagine the mental impact that would have.
There were times sitting at home after my fourth or fifth hiccup where I contemplated if the game had passed me. You can’t help but think about those things sometimes.
Then you get back to training and find you still have that determination to play and desperately want the ultimate success and the club were still supporting me.
But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t question whether I still had it in me.
What got me through was the motivation to contribute to the Giants, be with my mates and, importantly, find some time away.
I love fishing and camping and I’ve never fished or camped so much in my life. Jeremy Cameron has a boat and we’d always go out on his day off.
You put all your emotions into getting back that you need to have some time to relax and ease the mind.
I have some close mates at the club, too, and just talking through the situation with them relieved a lot of the frustration. Leon Cameron was a massive help in ensuring there was a spot for me when I got back.
There are worse situations in life but it’s hard not to get caught up in the bubble of your situation.
After returning through the NEAFL and playing a handful of games for the Giants so far in 2018, I now realise how much I missed the simple things like being on the park and training each day with my closest friends, working towards that common goal.
Having the thing I love doing most back in my life has made an enormous change. And it can only get better from here.