WHEN Lincoln McCarthy injured the navicular bone in his troublesome left foot for a second time last year he was prepared to concede his career was over.
"I definitely thought I was done," McCarthy said as he reflected on his journey back to playing football at the top level.
McCarthy's aerial ability, his core strength in absorbing and fighting off tackles and defensive pressure have been evident throughout Geelong's 2016 NAB Challenge campaign.
These are traits that caught Patrick Dangerfield's eye through the pre-season, leading the former Crow to ask coach Chris Scott where Geelong had been hiding the dynamic 177cm small forward.
What Dangerfield was not aware of was the torrid injury run the promising 21-year-old has been forced to endure.
McCarthy's injury woes began in August 2012. He was trying to outsprint former teammate David Wojcinski at training when he felt and heard a loud crack just below his left ankle.
He was sidelined for 16 months with a navicular fracture and the club urged him to start thinking about what he might pursue if he was not able to return to the field such was the serious nature of his injury.
McCarthy pushed on and was eyeing off a return at the back end of 2013 before he hurt his back lifting weights in the gym.
Undeterred, he featured in Geelong's 2014 NAB Challenge campaign and in the first two rounds of the home and away season but was ruled out again, this time for 12 weeks, when he injured his back.
He fought on and was selected as the starting substitute in the Cats' six-point semi-final loss to North Melbourne in 2014.
It remains the last time McCarthy has appeared at AFL level as his career was stalled last year when he strained his calf on the first day of pre-season and the foot injury flared again.
"Even trying to come back, I thought I was getting nowhere," McCarthy said.
"If it happened again I don't know whether I'd keep going or not."
The fact McCarthy has endured through an injury timeline akin to much-publicised teammate Daniel Menzel's battle speaks volumes of the resilience of the forward from Bordertown.
Teammates know McCarthy as an optimistic and upbeat country lad, affectionately known as 'Cobber' thanks to his South Australian farmer's-like drawl.
Geelong officials describe him as the most polite and respectful player on the list, always keen for a chat no matter the time of the day.
The way he conducts himself belies the multiple setbacks he has been through. And, yet, the obstacles have not appeared to dissuade him.
"I tried not to think of it as a long time out of the game, I tried to think of it as what I could do when I couldn't play footy, train or be around the boys," McCarthy said.
"There are a lot of people way worse off than a bloke who has a sore foot."
McCarthy, who was selected by the Cats with pick No. 66 in the 2011 NAB AFL Draft, desperately wants to add to the five senior games he has chalked up in his five seasons on Geelong's list.
Most pressing, he wants to string together 20 games in a row and know what it is like to celebrate wins with his teammates.
"I don't want to have one game on, miss two, play three more and then miss another two," he said.
"I want to be consistent and whether that's in the AFL or VFL, I don't really mind. I just want to show that I can hold up."
If football does not work out, the time McCarthy spent researching other career options, with the assistance of girlfriend Tayla, while on crutches and with his foot in a moon boot, may come in handy.
McCarthy credits welfare staff members Dave Johnson, who played 79 matches for Geelong from 2002-09, and Claire Mitchell-Taverner, who won a gold medal with the Hockeyroos at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, for opening his eyes to other opportunities.
He has completed two units of a health science course at university, is nearing the end of a fitness degree (which he has put on hold to concentrate on football this season) and is looking to get stuck into a business management course.
"It put my mind at ease that I was actually doing something productive," McCarthy said.
As for the wrap from Dangerfield, McCarthy said he has not stopped hearing it from his teammates.
"I might've bought Paddy a coffee for that," he said with a grin.
11:17pm Mar 27, 2014
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10:38pm Mar 28, 2014