Martin Clarke, Ben Sinclair and Josh Thomas leave the ground after the Pies' dramatic win over North Melbourne
AT CERTAIN stages through 2011, Collingwood's Josh Thomas wondered whether he would ever play football again.
It made his impressive debut on Sunday against North Melbourne all the more meritorious.
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After being drafted at the end of 2009, Thomas suffered a horror run of leg injuries.
He was in a moon boot for close to nine months from midway through 2011 and underwent surgery as the club tried hard to give him a crack at senior football.
"There was definitely a little period there where I didn't think I'd be playing footy at all so obviously I'm just rapt to finally get my chance," Thomas said.
That chance came around midday on Saturday when the Magpies ruled out last year's best and fairest winner Dayne Beams.
It meant Thomas, a stoppage specialist with the reflexes of a serve-volley expert, did not have much time to think about the debut.
His parents, Greg and Leanne, jumped on a flight from Brisbane and Thomas waited for his dream to turn into reality.
Soon enough the game was upon him.
Although he can extract a ball from a burning hedge, even he admitted the first quarter tested him.
"[It was] very intense. It was the most intense footy I have played," Thomas said. "The ball was pinging around…and then after half-time it sort of settled a bit."
It was up until half-time though that Thomas did his best work.
He had seven clearances to that point in a game that was both rugged and quick but he wasn't taking the credit.
"[It's] real handy having 'Swannie' and 'Pendles' in there. They are always just guiding me on my positioning at a stoppage," Thomas said.
And the elite duo reaped the rewards too, able to balance their inside and outside play as a result of Thomas's effort.
As the game wore on Thomas had to find something within to keep contributing. North Melbourne was coming hard with 10 minutes remaining and Thomas was exhausted.
"I think everyone was out on their feet. I was especially out on my feet. I was starting to cramp and that but you have just got to grit your teeth and hang on," Thomas said.
He said his first touch would stick in the memory for a while, but the feeling he had when Brent Macaffer took the mark to secure a Collingwood win would stay longer.
Now Thomas has had a taste for it he wants more. But he knows it won't be easy to get a game in such a strong squad.
"It's a bit surreal I guess. You obviously always think about [your first game] but when you finally get there it's just really a great experience and better than I ever thought it would be," Thomas said.
"It's great and hopefully I can keep getting a game."
Josh Thomas is a midfielder in NAB AFL Fantasy. He is valued at $108,500 in AFL Fantasy. Register your team at our AFL Fantasy Hub.
Peter Ryan covers Collingwood and Melbourne news for AFL.com.au. Follow him on Twitter at @AFL_petryan