Red-letter day: Gary Rohan reflects on his path back from a broken leg. Photo: Anthony Johnson
That which does not kill us makes us stronger, and so it has proven for Sydney young gun Gary Rohan who, in one of the best feel-good stories of the season, is making his AFL comeback on Sunday.
Rohan was already lightning fast before he broke his leg nearly 16 months ago but, in an ominous sign for the Swans' finals rivals, he's even quicker now.
There had been fears the 22-year-old's electrifying pace, his greatest weapon, would be dulled but the time spent strengthening muscles in his upper body and legs may have produced an even more powerful athlete.
''I feel more explosive when I take off,'' Rohan said. ''I'm a lot stronger than last year.''
Rohan, with his new-found pace, is shaping as a potential ace up Sydney's sleeve in their premiership defence if he can make a successful transition back to the big time.
''There wouldn't be many blokes faster than Lewis Jetta, but he's probably one of them,'' Sydney coach John Longmire said.
''That's been really exciting to see. So he gives that great speed to the team, he's a fantastic chaser and tackler. He puts on real pressure in our forward half. But we're also mindful that whatever he gives the team this year he'll be better again next year.''
It has been a rocky road back for Rohan, who at the start of the season still walked with a limp. His goal for this year was humble - he just wanted to be able to run again.
When he could run without favouring a leg he sat down with the medical and coaching staff, and the curtain-raiser to the game against GWS was earmarked as his return to competitive football.
The instructions from Longmire were simple - just enjoy playing again. But once he stepped on to the field his form exceeded not only his expectations but those of the club.
''I thought I would struggle for the last half of this year but I went out there and completely forgot about my injury and focused on my footy,'' Rohan said.
Equally as important, Rohan was able to withstand the stresses of playing and training despite such a long time out of the game.
''I surprised myself with how I pulled up after games, I thought I hadn't been playing for a year [and] I'd struggle,'' Rohan said.
''Pre-season, you come back and your first game in the NAB Cup you pull up really sore. I didn't pull up sore at all in the first four games, so hopefully that's still the same.''
Rohan has been nagging Longmire the past three weeks to pick him in the seniors and he was granted his wish on Tuesday. ''We announced it downstairs in front of the players and to be honest he was probably a little bit emotional,'' Longmire said. ''He kept telling me for the last three weeks to pick him and I've ignored him to a certain degree, but I think when we finally said, 'OK mate, you're in', I think it did hit him in terms of how much work he's been able to do.
''Blokes like [Fremantle midfielder] Michael Barlow and others across the competition [who suffered badly broken legs] we've seen over the years are probably the only ones that can fully understand the amount of work and challenges that Gary has faced.''
The affable redhead's return will be a boost for the Swans' morale for the business end of the season.
''There are not too many players who get a standing ovation when they come back and start playing again in the reserves, so that's the esteem he's held in around the footy club,'' Longmire said.
''He's just a really popular kid and he's really upbeat and gets around the place and is a really good person to be around.''