Western Bulldogs forward Clay Smith reckons he’s starting to move on from the dark moments that accompanied his wretched injury run.
After three knee reconstructions, he still finds it hard to believe he’s back on the field at the pointy end of the AFL season.
The 23-year-old returned to the Bulldogs side in round 15 and has since played 10 consecutive games, something he last achieved in 2013.
And his hard-edged performance in the Dogs’ thumping elimination final win over West Coast suggests he’s as ready as anyone for Friday’s semi-final against Hawthorn at the MCG.
Smith finished Thursday’s game at Domain Stadium with nine tackles and left several Eagles’ feeling the effect of bruising collisions.
“That’s just the way I’ve grown up playing footy,” Smith says of his physical approach.
“I think you’ve just got to play to your strengths and bring what you do for the team. That’s one of the areas I think I help the team out.
“If I can put my body in there and crash around and knock a few blokes over then that’s what I’m going to do.”
Smith has forged an important role as a defensive forward since his return from injury but admits he wasn’t initially sure whether his problematic knees would hold up.
“It was probably that three or four-game mark where I got nervous because that’s where the other ones have gone,” he said.
“Once I got through that it’s just been really good and really enjoyable to be out there every week and feel normal.
“I suppose it’s just a learning curve. It’s something that you can learn from and become a stronger person from.”
The Bulldogs trained in wet conditions at Whitten Oval on Tuesday and Smith said spirits were high following the win over the Eagles and the return of Tom Liberatore, Easton Wood, Jack Macrae and Jordan Roughead from injury.
“We’re just really riding on energy and enthusiasm at the moment,” he said.
“Coming off such a good win, we’re just full of belief and feeling good and I think that sort of just takes away a few niggles.”