A FULL pre-season, clarity about his position and an honest off-season chat with the coach has left James Aish confident he's set to deliver on his potential.
The 22-year-old is at the crossroads, having played just 23 games in two seasons with Collingwood after leaving the Brisbane Lions at the end of his two-year draftee contract in 2015.
Out of contract this year, and in and out of the team last season, the former No.7 draft selection and 2014 NAB AFL Rising Star nominee knows he simply has to deliver.
And, having stacked on four kilos this summer while improving his running capacity, he believes he's in the best position possible to do that in 2018.
"This has been my first pre-season where I've had a proper run at it," Aish told AFL.com.au this week.
"Physically, I just feel so much better and stronger, and I think it can only be beneficial, just getting consistency and hardening your body for the season."
Aish arrived at Collingwood after surgery on a finger tendon during his last year at the Lions, which disrupted his first pre-season as a Pie.
In 2016, he needed a hip operation at the end of the season, which again delayed his return to full training.
He got back to play in the JLT Community Series before the start of the 2017 home-and-away year and was named to face the Western Bulldogs in round one, but was hit with his first-ever bout of tonsillitis the day of the game.
From there, he struggled to get going. He played eight AFL games last year, was dropped twice, broke his cheekbone in round nine, and suffered two more concussions before the end of the season.
"I just wasn't able to get any consistency, or get going," he said.
"When I did play, I never really played that well, and there was a bit of trying to find a spot in the season and find my position."
In October last year, a text conversation with Nathan Buckley led to the Pies' coach asking Aish to meet him at the club for a casual lunch to chat about what was next.
The two have history for productive conversations. Back in 2015, it was Buckley who convinced Aish to choose Collingwood when he decided to leave the Lions.
South Australian and Norwood football club royalty (Aish's father Andrew, uncle Michael and grandfather Peter were all prolific Redlegs), Aish knew the "easy thing would have been to go back home" to Adelaide.
But Aish liked the challenge that Buckley presented, and felt the Pies' champion would be the one who would extract his best football.
Now, after two patchy, but at times promising years, Buckley and Aish have a fresh plan.
Aish trained with the forwards at times this off-season in a bid to add another dimension to his winger role, has benefitted from the Pies' emphasis on match simulation, and is ready to add AFLX and JLT games to his fruitful pre-season schedule.
He's also determined not think about his contractual status and just let his strong summer propel him into his fifth AFL season.
"Bucks said I've got the talent and people never questioned that, it's just about implementing it and finding my place and being confident with it," Aish said.
"That's from his side of things, which I respected, and it's really about coming back to pre-season in good shape, and I think I've been able to do that so far.
"I went away [from the chat] feeling more connected than before, and we're both on the same page and optimistic and ready to go.
"He wants me to succeed and I haven't been able to do that yet, so we're working out the best way to make that happen.
"At the moment, I'm in the best place I've been to really attack the season – I'm feeling really good, confident and positive."