He feared the day may never come, but Jason Culina says he'll take the field with a whole new outlook when he caps a remarkable return from injury for Sydney FC on Friday.
The former Socceroos midfielder will make his first A-League appearance in almost two years against Adelaide at Allianz Stadium despite doubts, sometimes his own, over whether he would ever play again.
"I've dreamt about this for the past two years and finally we're getting there," the 32 year-old said on Thursday.
After working his way back from two bouts of knee surgery, including a knee osteotomy last year to realign his left leg, Culina says his comeback will be an emotional experience.
He insists his biggest focus is on helping Sydney out of their worrying form slump and believes he'll return with a fresh approach having learned valuable lessons about himself.
"I think stepping away for a little bit and just watching has opened my eyes up a little bit," Culina said.
"It's made me realise it's just a game.
"Sometimes we put all this pressure on ourselves and stress out and create this big kerfuffle about things when there's no need to.
"It's a football game and we've just got to go out there and enjoy ourselves."
Culina last played in the A-League for Gold Coast in December, 2010 before aggravating an existing knee injury playing for the Socceroos at the Asian Cup a month later.
He recovered and signed for the Newcastle Jets in 2011/12 but broke down again before playing a match and was controversially sacked.
His determination and hard work earned him a lifeline with the Sky Blues and Culina plans to make the most of it, even harbouring ambitions to add to his 58 Socceroos caps down the track.
He admits thoughts of retirement crossed his mind but paid tribute to his family and Sydney FC medical staff for providing the support he needed.
"You do doubt whether you're going to come back but it comes down to how hard you work and how bad you want it," Culina said.
"I wanted it pretty bad, for myself and the people that were behind me too."
Culina made his own call to declare himself ready for a return and is likely to come off the bench, though Adelaide coach John Kosmina won't be surprised if he starts.
Sydney are also set to welcome back Terry Antonis from Young Socceroos duty, with fit-again Adam Griffiths likely to return in a Sky Blues defence which has copped a staggering 14 goals in three games.
While interim Sky Blues coach Steve Corica admits his last-placed side faces a huge challenge against the competition leaders, Kosmina is wary of the attacking threat posed by Alessandro Del Piero and co.
"Sydney aren't as bad a side as their position says," Kosmina said.
"The thing to remember is they they've actually scored goals even when they've been beaten."