Tom McDonald in action during Melbourne's clash against Brisbane in round five, 2024. Picture: Getty Images

TOM MCDONALD isn't just back at home in defence, he's injury-free for the first time in years.

The Melbourne tall started his career in the backline, before being swung forward for the back end of the 2017 season.

Amid a series of long-term foot and ankle issues in recent years, he has been one of Melbourne's main targets in attack, but has been back in familiar territory this year after swapping roles with Harry Petty. 

"It's been good fun. I don't really care where I play, I'm just happy playing footy again," McDonald told

"It's been a rough two, two-and-a-half years with injury, and it's just fun being able to play footy and train during the week and not being constantly worried about injury or dealing with injury. 

"Obviously you still have to spend a fair bit of effort getting ready – the older you are, the more time it takes to prepare physically for games. But that's been the most fun part, just being back playing footy and being a part of the team. It's been really good."

Tom McDonald chases Marcus Windhager during Narrm's clash against Euro-Yroke in round 11, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

McDonald, who will be 32 in September, managed nine games in 2022 and eight last year. 

He's already sitting at 13 for the season, and is noticing a difference without the constant slog of rehab exercises and having to work overtime in order to get his body up to scratch to play each week.

"I'm mentally freer in the fact I can just look forward to playing every game now," McDonald said.

"There's not the stress of – well, there's always selection pressure and those sorts of things, but it is what it is for me. I think if I go out there with a clear mind and prepare well, then I'll generally play pretty well and the rest of it sort of takes care of itself. 

"That's been my focus, to just enjoy the year, put all the effort in I can, and just go and enjoy it."

Tom McDonald in action during Melbourne's clash against Fremantle in round 12, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

Melbourne is sitting ninth, with eight wins and six losses, having just squeaked away with a three-point victory over a fast-charging North Melbourne.

After 14 games last year, the Dees had a 9-5 record, eventually finishing the home and away season in fourth place before a straight-sets finals exit.

"I'd say we're not flying, but I think the last two weeks, there's been a definite turnaround in the way we play, and that's been the bigger factor for us. The game's gone back to being a bit of a defensive slog, which is when we know things are on a better path for us. While I'd say we're not playing well, it's at least back turning the game the way we'd like to play it," McDonald said.

"Quite often, our good stuff will come from periods like this, I think even the season when we won the Grand Final, we had a period in the middle of the year (winning one of four matches) where it was a really low-scoring game and the defensive side of our game was strong, and then we started to build towards the end of the year. 

"So that's the sort of focus, if we can get that side of the game sorted, the defensive stuff, the contest work, quite often the offensive game takes care of itself. That's been the focus the last two weeks, especially after that Fremantle game, which was just a horror show."

The Demons look dejected after the round 12 match between Melbourne and Fremantle at TIO Traeger Park, June 2, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

Jake Lever (knee) is expected to return for Friday night's match against Brisbane, having left a big hole in Melbourne's backline since undergoing surgery a month ago.

"We miss his intercept work and that sort of stuff, but the biggest thing is probably his energy and enthusiasm," McDonald said.

"I'm not sure if you guys can see him screaming from the back of the field, yelling out to guys, rewarding good efforts or great tackles or spoils that not everyone else sees. We probably miss that energy he brings."