TOM LANGDON was frustrated and confused.
It was unfamiliar territory for Langdon, a laidback character who exudes a calming influence in Collingwood's backline.
The 24-year-old had just played the best football of his career as a makeshift key defender, producing a superb finals series culminating in an admirable Grand Final performance that earned him a vote in the Norm Smith Medal from Sydney coach John Longmire after a heartbreaking five-point loss to West Coast.
Such efforts can define careers and command long-term deals, but Langdon was out of contract as the Pies tried to land some higher-profile targets during the NAB AFL Trade Period.
His stocks at an all-time high, he attracted interest from Longmire's Swans and Fremantle, the latter being the club of Langdon's little brother Ed.
During this uncertain period the Langdon brothers and their father Chris left for a much-anticipated holiday in Africa. Understandably, the anxious Magpie couldn't entirely relax until he made a decision about his playing future.
"Switching from playing in a Grand Final to having to automatically focus on where you were going to play the next year was a bit frustrating and confusing," Langdon told AFL.com.au.
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"I'm not sure Edward enjoyed the first two weeks of our holiday because all I talked about was football. It was a stressful time."
Langdon eventually recommitted to Collingwood for another three years, calling his manager with the news from a cramped café at Nairobi International Airport in Kenya, shortly before they flew out of phone range to Tanzania.
"There were a lot of reasons to stay – I'm from Melbourne, I love Melbourne; I've been at Collingwood my whole playing career, I love the place and the people, and I love playing there. It also helped that we had a pretty good season," Langdon said.
I never wanted to leave. I always had my heart set on staying at Collingwood and wanted to make it work as much as possible. It was just a matter of working through a few contract terms and financial stuff, and it worked itself out in the end.
"I'm stoked I stayed. I can't imagine myself not being at Collingwood."
The pressure released, the passionate traveller could finally immerse himself in the rich east African culture and landscape. However, there were still some hard yards ahead as they climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, 5895m above sea level, while suffering altitude sickness in subzero temperatures.
"A couple of years earlier I'd gone to Mount Everest base camp (5380m) with Dad, but the last day (of hiking to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro) is the hardest thing I've ever done," Langdon said.
Langdon has always been busy away from football.
For the past six years, the former Melbourne Grammar student has studied commerce at Deakin University. For a time he also studied law but found it too difficult to fit it all in around footy.
He has also just bought his first house, having only last week moved out of the inner-city apartment he shared with teammate Darcy Moore for the past year.
Although their living arrangement has ended, Langdon is excited about the prospect of building their on-field relationship in defence – an opportunity that could easily have eluded them given Moore also weighed up a tempting offer from the Swans last year.
Langdon believes Moore, who appears to have arrested his hamstring issues, has "no ceiling" and "could be anything" as a key backman.
The 203cm Moore and 200cm ex-Bulldog Jordan Roughead loom as significant additions to the Magpies' defensive stocks.
"It's great having them around because they can take good key forwards and they give us a lot of aerial support. It's definitely a different dynamic to last season where we were undersized due to injuries," Langdon said.
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Those season-ending knee injuries to Lynden Dunn and Matt Scharenberg forced usual third-tall options in Langdon (190cm), Jeremy Howe (190cm) and Tyson Goldsack (193cm) to fight out of their weight division, which they did so gallantly.
Intercept specialists Langdon and Howe stand to be the greatest beneficiaries of the Pies' restructured defence.
"Having those two big guys back there will give Howey and me more opportunity to play to our strengths – read the play, zone off and intercept the ball – and we'll be able to help them out as well," said Langdon, who is recovering from concussion but has declared he will be fit to play Geelong in round one.
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"Teams often play three talls so me and Howey will probably chop and change a bit (as third talls)."
That's a comforting prospect for Pies fans. Despite his more accountable role on bigger opponents last year, Langdon still managed to take the most intercept marks in the finals.
He rated his 2018 season as merely "OK" overall but was pleased with how he finished it off.
"I was relatively proud of my efforts to perform when it mattered most – and most of my teammates could say the same thing (about themselves)," he said.
"It was a good confidence-booster knowing that I can hold up on the biggest stage when the footy is at its hottest. Hopefully it holds me in good stead and I can continue that on and have a strong 2019."
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Langdon is also determined to continue to improve his leadership. Though one of the naturally quieter Magpies, he recognised the need to take more responsibility last year to provide direction to inexperienced teammates.
However, Langdon won't change the casual demeanour that can frustrate fans. It's an intrinsic part of his being.
And, besides, perception isn't always reality – at times he might look like he's coasting when he's actually busting a gut. He's thankful that his coach Nathan Buckley "gets it".
"I've heard that I'm too casual from every coach I've had – from under-9s to the AFL," Langdon said.
"I'm sure there are things that really frustrate Bucks at times but he understands my personality and knows that it's just my laconic nature and that I'm not what others might perceive as lazy or whatever.
"It helps me play my best football when I don't have to worry about that stuff.
"After six years, most people at the club understand who I am now. It helps that I don't have to convince anyone any more."