Collingwood's Brent Macaffer
WHEN Brent Macaffer walked onto Etihad Stadium last Friday night there was a difference in his stride.
It wasn't a slight limp courtesy of his surgically repaired knee, nor was it the new No. 3, worn in tribute to his late great mate John McCarthy, adorning the back of his guernsey.
The 24-year-old walked taller and with more purpose.
Nathan Buckley certainly noticed it - he had done so all pre-season.
"If Beamsy's (Dayne Beams) got accolades for being able to turn himself around in the last 12 months, I think what Caff has been able to do, without playing a game, is nearly equivalent," Buckley said after the match.
Almost twelve months ago to the day, just five minutes into the Pies' first NAB Cup game against the Western Bulldogs, Macaffer's 2012 season was in tatters.
It was confirmed that he would miss the entire season after rupturing the ACL in his left knee.
"His preparation for last season was arguably the best at the club," Collingwood forwards coach Matthew Lappin told AFL.com.au
"So when he went down, five minutes in to the first NAB Cup game, it was tragic for him and the group, because he'd worked so hard."
He was coming off a frustrating season, having played just four matches in 2011 following the 2010 premiership triumph.
Rather than drop his bundle, Macaffer attacked his rehabilitation with vigour and professionalism.
That approach continued into this pre-season, with Macaffer hardly missing a session and Lappin nominating him in the top two or three at the club in terms of training performance.
Speaking with AFL.com.au
in Healesville on Collingwood's Telstra community camp, Buckley summed up Macaffer's transformation.
"Caff a couple of years back was the type of bloke who would just present himself and be happy to leave things to chance," Buckley said.
"Whatever happened to him, happened to him.
"He'd do the bare minimum and if things fell his way then they did, and if they didn't, he didn't seem to take a lot of control in his destiny.
"But that has been clearly turned upside down in the last 18 months."
Playing in his first senior game on Friday night since the knee injury - he played a handful of VFL games late last season - Macaffer was dangerous around goal and was a key part of a new-look Collingwood forward line.
He showed plenty of zip against Essendon in amassing six touches and three tackles, while his clever crumbing against the Western Bulldogs provided a highlight.
From a forward entry inside 50, Macaffer hit the pack at full tilt, tapped the loose ball to his advantage and hooked the ball over his shoulder for a smart goal.
It smacked of a player who was comfortable with his position in the team and one who had gained control of his football career.
"He's now put himself in a really good position and given himself the best chance of succeeding and making the most of his ability," Buckley said.
"As a professional that's your job, what you have to do. He's leaving less things to chance now because he's taken control of everything that he can."
Brent Macaffer is a forward in NAB AFL Fantasy. He did not play in 2012. Register your team at our AFL Fantasy hub.
Follow AFL Media reporter Ben Guthrie on Twitter at @AFL_BenGuthrie