Andrew Swallow at a training session on Monday. Photo: Getty Images
It has been 289 days since Andrew Swallow collapsed in the middle of Etihad Stadium and reached for the Achilles tendon in his left leg that had just ruptured.
Between that game - back on July 27, 2013 and his next, set for this Saturday at the same ground - the North Melbourne captain has jumped through every physical hoop put in his way by the club’s medical and coaching staff.
But as the 26-year-old prepares to restart his career against the Brisbane Lions, he knows that clearing the mental hurdles formed in his own mind over a lonely, demanding and, at times, frustrating rehabilitation remains the biggest challenge.
"It's just a grind day-in, day-out," Swallow said on Monday. "Little niggles that you feel from time to time. You feel like you're ready to go, and they hold you back,” he said.
"So just that mental battle, it's great to be getting to the other end where you're actually playing because that makes it a lot easier. But there's still mind games even now that you still play.
"I'm sure there will be a couple of sleepless nights before I actually get out there, just knowing [if] I'll get through and be unscathed."
Before he can be selected for his first game since round 18 last season, Swallow must get through training unscathed this week.
He spoke on Monday about realistic expectations and how a loss of power in the tendon might affect his jumping.
"I think the last time I went for a mark, going back and looking at the footage, I kneed the bloke in the calf,” Swallow joked.
"My Achilles is probably twice as fat as what it used to be, so speed-wise I’m fine,” he said.
"In my own mind, I would love to go out there and be back to where I was before. But you’ve got to be realistic, it’s probably going to take a good month or so, or maybe more.”
Swallow revealed he had sought the counsel of Hawthorn star Jarryd Roughead before making his comeback in the VFL two weeks ago. He wanted advice on how to overcome the mental scars associated with the same injury Roughead has suffered.
"I was actually really nervous going into that [first] game, just the unknown to go out and do it," Swallow said of his VFL comeback.
"Going in there and getting bashed around a bit ... and tackling and chasing and all that, in an uncontrolled manner and when you are under fatigue. I’ve gained confidence.”
Swallow did not rule out the possibility of coach Brad Scott asking his three-time best and fairest winner to return in the substitute's vest. Although he thought it was more likely that the second game he played in the VFL had served that purpose.
"You want to go in knowing your are 100 per cent right to go,” he said.
So there is a chance that the Roos will finally assemble the midfield brigade the club hopes can match it with any other - Andrew Swallow, Nick Dal Santo, Jack Ziebell, Daniel Wells, Brent Harvey, Ben Cunnington and the rest of the supporting cast.
However, if there is a hold-up on unveiling North’s power midfield core, it seems more likely to be Wells, who is still battling unusual foot soreness.
Roos football director Geoff Walsh said the club would use Wednesday’s main training session as a guide on Swallow and Wells.
"We would want to see Daniel moving freely at that main training session before we make any call on him, and then see how he pulls up,” Walsh said.