Tom Liberatore has emerged from a year in the AFL wilderness along with the young Western Bulldogs pups on the first day of their pre-season training.
Liberatore missed the entire 2015 season – a breakout year for the Bulldogs – after suffering a knee injury that required reconstruction in the first weekend of the pre-season cup.
While the 23-year-old isn’t required at Whitten Oval until the club’s senior players join in training next week, he popped up for running drills away from the main group on Monday.
Jack Macrae, part of the club’s first to fourth-year players who began the slog to season 2016, said his progress had been an inspiration to younger players.
“He’s really dug into his rehab which has been really impressive,” he said.
“We all know what kind of player he is and what he brings on and off the field, next year hopefully he comes back strong.”
Such was the Bulldogs’ surge in fortunes this year, Macrae said at times he forgot the 2014 club champion wasn’t playing.
The Dogs jumped from 14th in 2014 to sixth, largely off the back of the younger players that resumed their training on Monday.
Macrae said Tory Dickson was the pick of the bunch, “smashing” a stop-til-you-drop running test set on their first day back.
Nathan Hrovat and Lachie Hunter were also nominated as strong performers.
Aside from Liberatore’s appearance on Whitten Oval, the biggest sight for sore eyes was coach Luke Beveridge.
Beveridge was wearing a handlebar mustache as part of fundraising efforts for “Movember”.
Macrae admitted to pangs of jealousy that his 21-year-old face wouldn’t allow him to join the fray.
“A few boys got a laugh out of it, it works for him – if only I could grow one,” he said.
“All the young boys are back but I don’t think any of us can grow one at this stage, in a few years maybe we’ll jump on board.”