MAJAK Daw believes he can fulfill his potential at North Melbourne next season, now that his sole focus will be on playing football.
The Kangaroos ruck-forward has spoken of the relief he felt last month after being found not guilty of three counts of rape stemming from an incident back in 2007, when he was 16.
Daw only managed two senior games last year while the allegations hung over his head, and the Sudanese-born big man now feels like he has a new lease on life and greater appreciation for being part of an AFL club.
"To wake up every day and literally defend my freedom … I think it was the first time I've felt like what I've had could be taken away from me," Daw told NMFC.com.au.
"It just made me appreciate what I had, being here (North Melbourne) for about six years."
Daw said the support from the Kangaroos and his family helped him stay strong throughout the 18-month process from being charged to having his name cleared.
"It helped being at this footy club with the amount of support that everyone's provided and my teammates supporting me. It's made me more resilient," he said.
"Having great family support, good people around me – I use that as my motivation.
"Coming to training (now) I don't have to think about any external factors of what I've been through.
"For the first time in a long time I can do a full pre-season. I don’t have my court case holding me back. So for me there's really no excuse (not) to maximise my opportunity."
In football terms, Daw still has significant challenges to overcome – starting with earning elevation off the rookie list after he was delisted and then re-drafted at the end of last year.
And while Daniel Currie has moved on to Gold Coast, Daw is still behind All Australian Todd Goldstein in the pecking order for a ruck spot.
In attack, veterans Drew Petrie and Jarrad Waite hold down key position posts, while Ben Brown edged out Aaron Black for the third tall spot in 2015.
Daw said he'd been working hard on his contested marking to try to jump up the queue for senior opportunities, and the hulking 195cm Roo has also slimmed down after feeling too big playing at around 97kg last year.
"I felt like I was a bit too top-heavy running out games last year. With the amount of running we're doing, I want to be able to run efficiently," he said.
"I know it's an area of my game that I always have to improve. I've shed a couple of kilos, but I'll see what the guys say how much more I can lose.
"I really want to work on my contested marking. Last year defenders were so much smarter in taking front position – they're so confident in doing that now.
"So I've got to keep working and picking the brains of guys like Drew Petrie and 'Waitey' and see what works. If I can really improve on it, it will set me apart from some of the other players."