Jesse White started 2013 thinking it would be a tough year but could finish it lining up in a final alongside the man for whom he was offered as trade bait, Kurt Tippett.
After a promising start to his career in 2009-10 under Paul Roos, who played him primarily as a forward, White's career has fizzled. He played 13 games in 2011, including two finals, but after managing only three matches last year was offered to Adelaide in a trade to secure Tippett, before the deal fell through.
Despite Tippett's arrival pushing White further down the pecking order, there was never any concern about the pair's relationship. They have known each since White was 10 when they played junior basketball together in Queensland.
The pair now form an unlikely key-forward pairing for Sydney due to a spate of injuries to the club's stocks of tall timber. Among those on the sidelines are Sam Reid, Adam Goodes and Tommy Walsh.
Walsh's season is over but Goodes and Reid are eyeing returns in the run into September, giving White four or five games at most to convince John Longmire's match committee he deserves to feature in the finals.
Opportunities at senior level have been scant since Longmire took over in 2011 but rather than blame the coach White has, with the help of some frank feedback from teammates, realised he had not been working hard enough. "My first year with him [Longmire] was pretty tough. He set the scene for me with where I've got to get to," White said.
He was told the AFL was a cut-throat industry and he needed to work harder if he was to succeed. "It was tough to hear," White said. "Growing up I was so big, quicker, stronger than lots of kids. Looking back on it, you didn't have to work that hard for it. You might just get through on your size or athletic ability but when it comes to the AFL everyone is the same.
"Over the last year or two it's just clicked for me how hard I've had to work. I look back early on and the training standards was the thing that was keeping me back."
Despite the tough love from Longmire, White drew heart from the fact his coach believed in him. "He said, 'You could be a bloody good player,' if I worked hard at training," White said. "It clicked in me that if I do work I could be a good player."
This could also be the last chance White has of convincing the Swans match committee he has a future in the red and white. The 25-year-old is out of contract at the end of the season.
"The only way anything is ever going to come of it is right now – how I play," he said. "There's good opportunities for me to play senior footy now, and that's all I'm focusing on. If I play well and keep producing for the side, good things will come from it."
The signs so far are good for White, who has featured in four of the past five games for seven goals playing predominantly in attack.
"At the start of the year I didn't know how this year was going to go," White said. "I had a really good pre-season, and when I've been playing in the reserves I've been playing really good footy. I thought whenever my opportunities come, take them and play well."