Such was the seriousness of the back injury which forced Nathan Grima into retirement last year that North Melbourne coach Brad Scott admits he was surprised to learn the key defender was considering a comeback with Essendon.
The 30-year-old is an attractive prospect as a top-up player for the Bombers, who are very light-on for big backmen.
Star duo Michael Hurley and Cale Hooker, along with Tayte Pears, were among the dozen Essendon players suspended for the 2016 season for their roles in the club’s controversial supplements program.
Back, knee and foot injuries limited the popular Grima to just 86 games in eight seasons with the Kangaroos.
He did not play at all in 2015 and announced his retirement last year after a third operation to fuse discs in his back.
“Football wasn’t a priority at the end of last year – it was about getting him back to a good quality of life and being able to do everyday things like when he eventually has kids, being able to pick them up,” Scott told reporters on Wednesday.
“He’s clearly made a really good recovery and feels like he’s in a position now where he can get out and play again at the highest level.
“That’s terrific for him.
“My concern still is his health and wellbeing, but fingers crossed he gets through and plays some good footy.”
Essendon have already signed eight of the maximum 10 top-up players they can recruit to replace the 12 who were banned by the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
Grima had been training with a Melbourne suburban club before being contacted by the Bombers.
Scott revealed on Wednesday he had spoken at length with Grima about the prospect of him returning to the AFL with a different club.
“He’s been medically cleared and good on him,” said Scott.
“He’s a genuine competitor and like a lot of of professional sportsmen it’s very difficult to finish up when you’re feeling good in yourself.
“All my advice was to make sure that he was doing the right thing for himself, not just for the short term but for the long term as well.”