When Clay Smith catapulted the Western Bulldogs into a historic AFL grand final on Saturday night, he’d already overcome plenty of dark moments.
After enduring three knee reconstructions in as many years, the resilient midfielder would have barely dared to dream he’d be the man to guide his team to a first season decider in 55 years.
But that wasn’t the only inspiration behind Smith’s four-goal haul against Greater Western Sydney, with the 23-year-old revealing a close friend had died earlier in the week.
The team wore black armbands during their six-point triumph at Sydney’s Spotless Stadium.
Afterwards, Smith was overwhelmed by emotion.
“It’s unbelievable, mate,” he said.
“We were written off probably at the start of the finals series.
“We’ve just overcome so much – I lost one of my best mates on Monday during the week.
“So this game’s for Daisy and I … love him.
“Footy does wonders. I’ve been through some dark times but it’s all worth it (because) we’re going to a grand final next week.”
Smith also notched 26 touches and eight tackles during the heated to-and-fro affair – his 12th match back after recovering from his most-recent ACL injury.
The Gippsland product fought his way back into the squad in round 15, since playing an integral role in the Bulldogs’ unlikely premiership push.
Dogs coach Luke Beveridge said it was a laudable achievement given he’d made just 18 appearances across three seasons before this year.
“We just kept getting off the canvas and Clay epitomises that,” Beveridge said.
“He lost a mate during the week so he’s had an emotional time.
“For him to perform the way he did tonight and inspire his teammates, you can’t think highly enough of Clay Smith.”