Even in the darkest of days – and there were plenty of them as he underwent three knee reconstructions – Clay Smith truly believed he had what it took to make it as an AFL footballer.
If only his body would give him a chance to prove it.
The wheel has finally turned for the rugged Western Bulldogs utility, who broke last weekend’s preliminary final against GWS wide open with a stunning four-goal first half.
In an epic encounter decided by just six points, the 23-year-old was instrumental in ensuring the Bulldogs earned a spot in the grand final for the first time in 55 years.
“As a kid growing up I played in a fair few grand finals and I always loved them,” Smith told AAP.
“But I don’t think I’ve ever kicked that many goals in any of those junior grand finals.
“I was more of a permanent mid back then because you could run all day when you were 14 and didn’t need a break.
“Some days you get the ball bouncing the wrong way and sometimes it goes the right way.
“It was nice to get on the end of a few nice bounces on the weekend.”
The same sentiment could be applied to Smith’s stop-start AFL career.
He ruptured an anterior cruciate ligament for the third time last year, shortly after breaking back into the senior side, necessitating another long stint in rehab.
“I’ve always taken the glass half-full approach and tried to look at things in the right light,” he said.
“I’ve always had the support of the club, my family and my fiancee.
“Coming back after the third knee reco it was at that three or four-game mark where I was nervous because that’s where the last ones had gone again.
Once I got through that and got back in the AFL side and got some continuity in football and life it’s worked out fine.”
Smith returned to the Bulldogs’ AFL team in round 15 against Sydney and has played the past 12 matches on the trot.
A repeat of his four-goal first-half haul against the Giants might be too much to ask for on Saturday against the Swans.
But no-one at the Whitten Oval will be in any doubt that Smith will give everything for the cause.
That’s what he did every time he was in rehab and that’s what he does every time he takes to the field.