AS SOON as he landed, Mitch Georgiades feared the worst. Playing in Port Adelaide's SANFL team after featuring in the club's first two AFL games last season, Georgiades leapt for a mark after a pass from teammate Francis Evans. He dropped the ball, hit the ground and knew straight away he had done damage to his knee.
The 'pop' sound, excruciating pain and hobbling effect was enough to know the injury wasn't great. He got off the stretcher and walked around the changerooms trying to convince himself that his knee wasn't as bad as first feared, and doctors told him to wait until scans two days later, but the goalkicker was aware his season could be over by April.
"I knew I was in a bit of trouble," he told AFL.com.au. "The physios say you can usually tell by the story of the initial pain and what happens after that whether it's bad or not."
It was, with scans confirming that Georgiades had ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament and would be ruled out for the rest of 2023. Before he had really gotten going, the fourth-year forward had to reconcile with a year on the sidelines.
Complicating things was the fact it was a contract year as other clubs also made approaches for him.
Now eight months on, Georgiades is back on the track. At Port's Gold Coast training camp last week, he continued his progress with more straight line and change of direction running.
After the club's Christmas break he hopes to get into more non-contact training drills as he eyes a return to the field in round one next season.
"Personally I want to be back for round one. That's been my goal since the start of this year. I did it round four or five in the AFL and it's a 12-month injury so if you're around that period then you're around then," he said.
"I just have to tick off the boxes before then and hopefully post-Christmas I'll get into some training and then build up from there. It takes two months for your training to get your confidence up alone so hopefully I'll be back around that period."
Georgiades underwent his knee reconstruction back home in Perth, with Port allowing him to recover in the initial period with the help of his family. But his progress was slow, with a build-up of scar tissue in the early stages seeing him require follow-up surgery to clear his rehabilitation run.
"For a while there I was in a fair bit of pain. It halted my whole program. I didn't probably start until the 8-12 weeks [stage]. I was thinking 'Jeez am I actually going to get going here? Am I going to play footy again?' That was pretty tough. I couldn't walk very well for a while and was hobbling around the club on crutches for a while," he said.
"I went back to Perth and then went to Melbourne for another surgery and got everything sorted out. It's been good the past couple of months to mentally and physically feel like I'm progressing and each day is really rewarding."
Through that period, Georgiades was also weighing his future as he fell out of contract at the end of the season. Having put off the decision to focus on getting through the start of his rehabilitation, Georgiades in September inked a four-year deal with the Power through to the end of 2027, when he will be a free agent.
"With the setbacks it delayed my decision and I was just focusing on my knee in that initial stage," he said.
"I had a really good chat with Kenny (Hinkley), (Port list manager) Jason Cripps and (football boss) Chris Davies. We had a big meeting about where the club was heading in the next six years and where I fit in there. For me I obviously have to play good football but in the future looking at the forward line we have hopefully it's myself, Toddy (Marshall) and 'Lordy' (Ollie Lord) in years to come. For me that wasn't the issue, it was just trying to get things sorted."
Georgiades' injury struck last season just as Port's winning run started to unfold, with the 22-year-old seeing his teammates go on a club-record 13-game winning streak before bowing out of September in the semi-final.
Georgiades, who kicked 32 goals in the club's 2021 preliminary final season and his second campaign at AFL level, said he was keen to use the disappointment of missing out to push the team further in 2024.
"This year not playing has made me realise how lucky we are and how much I want to play footy and have the drive to be better and to make the next stage," he said.
"Watching the Grand Final is tough every year if you're not in it and it was challenging watching from afar through the year. Definitely when I'm back I'll be doing everything I can to help get us there."