A ROUND-one AFL debut looked a million miles away for Billy Gowers when couldn't crack a game in the VFL at the start of last season.
The hard-running forward was looking to re-start his career with Footscray after being delisted by Carlton after two seasons on the club's rookie list, but off-season ankle surgery put him behind the eight ball in preparation for the 2017 season.
Sent back to amateur footy after missing round-one selection at state league level, Gowers soon returned and ended up impressing with 20 goals across 19 games with the 'Scray, and that standout campaign became his much-desired ticket back to the AFL.
Twelve months on, the Bulldogs rookie now has two senior games under his belt and will line up against Essendon at Etihad Stadium on Sunday.
"Going back to local footy with Old Xaverians in the VAFA and having a bit of fun was great, but I never thought about getting redrafted until the end of last year," Gowers told AFL.com.au.
"At Carlton, I was very under-developed physically and I was playing in different positions from half-back to half-forward, so I didn't get any continuity.
"I was playing predominately down back and the Blues had some great running defenders at the time in Zach Tuohy (now at Geelong), Kade Simpson and Sam Docherty, so it was hard to break into the senior team.
"But above all that, I wasn't playing good footy.
"So, it's great being out on the field now (with the Bulldogs) and having a run around, but I hope I'm contributing to the team because it's been a such a long wait to play senior footy."
A late call up for the club's second JLT Community Series hit-out gave Gowers his first taste of senior footy with the Dogs, and he remained in the side and made his long-awaited AFL debut against Greater Western Sydney in round one.
Gowers has been one of the few positives for the struggling Dogs, kicking a goal in each of the disappointing losses to the Giants and West Coast.
"I was lucky enough to get a call up in the JLT series and I've been lucky enough to hold my spot," Gowers said.
"My strengths are my aerial contests with my one-on-one marking, as well as my speed and ability at ground level, and if can put a lot of pressure on with my tackling, I'll be really valued at the club.
"I just want to keep bringing my attributes to the forefront, hopefully kick a few more goals and have more influence on the game.
"I want to keep growing as a footballer, but as a person as well because I'm at a great club and fortunate they gave me another chance.
"It's a very exciting time for me, but also for my friends and family because they're more excited for me than I am."
The 21-year-old has become the third generation of the Gowers family to play League football, after his father Andrew played 140 games on the wing with Hawthorn and Brisbane during the '80s and '90s, including the Hawks' 1991 Grand Final win over West Coast.
His grandfather, Trevor Gowers, played 24 games for Richmond between 1964 and 1966.
Gowers credits the support of his father for helping him follow in his footsteps.
"Dad was a pretty handy player from what I've heard, because I didn't get to see him play too much, but he's been a big influence off the field for me," he said.
"Not so much for kicking and marking, more how to conduct myself off the field by making sure I do everything right and enjoying my footy.
"Over the years he's shared some stories that have helped me on and off the field, because he's always giving me his two-bob's worth."