They say rehab is the loneliest place at a football club.
Confined to runners as your teammates take to the oval, your mentality shifts and goals centre around recovery while the other 40 players focus on preparing for the weekend’s game.
No longer part of the collective trying to beat the opposition, you’re immediately set on your own path behind closed doors.
It’s an area few have to face and there aren’t many who understand this better than Daniel Menzel.
Following four knee reconstructions, Menzel successfully returned to field in Round 22 last year against Collingwood after 1,450 days without an appearance at the top level.
Now the poster boy for injury comebacks, the 24-year-old wants to help those going through similar experiences and support the players forced to spend the obligatory 12 months on the sidelines following an ACL rupture.
Like Menzel, Sydney defender Alex Johnson has spent the better part of three years in rehab. Incredibly, the Swans premiership player recently endured his fifth operation to fix his recurring ACL problems since he first tore the ligament in the pre-season of 2013.
Recently, the he and Menzel organised a catch-up, where the Geelong forward offered support and went through certain aspects of his recovery process.
Speaking to aflplayers.com.au, Menzel says he tries to make himself available to other players going through injury troubles.
“I try to help out others who are going through long-term things because it’s a lonely place and there’s a lack of understanding because a lot of people haven’t experienced it,” Menzel says.
“You understand what those guys go through and you have that empathy for each other so you realise the hard work everyone is putting in, so to see them out on the field would mean that little bit more. It’s something I get a lot of enjoyment out of.”
When the pair got together, they bounced recovery ideas off each other and Menzel offered advice on certain aspects that he believed helped or hindered his recovery, while Johnson had some questions of his own.
It’s not the first time Menzel has counselled a player suffering a long-term injury. He has reached out to the likes of Hawk Alex Woodward and Docker Anthony Morabito, who have had three knee reconstructions each, and will no doubt be a sounding board for young teammate Jackson Thurlow as he recovers from an ACL tear suffered last weekend.
While staying updated on their progress, Menzel says wants to replicate the support network he had when going through his own trials and tribulations.
“It’s pretty challenging not being to play for such a long time but there’s also a lack of involvement that is one of the most difficult things.
“I spoke with Morabito a fair bit throughout our recoveries before we both came back and talked a bit because of the similarities in our experiences and I spoke with Nick Malceski at times.
“There was also a great network around me from a lot of people who hadn’t gone through it [an ACL injury] who I could talk to, which was one of the major contributors to my comeback.
“That’s where I understand the impact others can have, and if you can have a small impact on someone else than it’s worth it.”
Menzel’s own comeback to the elite level has been well documented with a film about his own journey to recovery airing on Fox Footy last year.
He recently played his first pre-season fixture in five years and hopes others can take something out of his story.
“It’s one of the things I am most proud of because it’s something that when I spoke to people in the past they’ve said ‘I don’t know if you’ll be able to come back or be able the same player you were before’ and I always looked at proving that wrong.
“I guess coming back from four, it gives others hope who have done one, two, three or four themselves and that it can be done and you can come back and play to your ability, so that’s something I try to pass on to others.
“It sits well with me that others can get hope out of that because it is challenging and a lot of people immediately think of the negatives but there are positives to come out of it as well.”