IT'S FAIR to say nothing has come easily to Collingwood's Josh Thomas since he was drafted way back in 2009.
Even the five goals he kicked against Carlton on Friday night didn't just happen.
They eventuated after he spent time working on his set shots this week after feeling as though inaccuracy and a lack of composure let him down in the opening two rounds.
He added an extra step to his run-up, diligently worked on his technique at training, and the result was a personal best haul that helped the Magpies set up their 24-point win.
But just being on the field in the first place has been a big accomplishment for Thomas after it appeared his career was over in 2015 when he was suspended – along with ex-Pie Lachie Keeffe - for two years for a positive drug test.
He took his whack, came back to the club at the end of 2016, and started to do what he could to earn back the trust he'd lost.
He managed to get back on the AFL field in round 15 last season despite a shortened pre-season and held his spot for the rest of what he called his "transition" year.
Still, he felt like that wasn't enough after the club had stuck by him through years of injuries and then his costly decision to indulge in illicit drugs, which led to his positive performance enhancing substance test.
"I felt like last year getting back into the side was quite rewarding but I didn't feel like the job was done," Thomas told AFL.com.au after the win over the Blues.
"I wanted to have a big pre-season and really bring my best this year.
"I didn't get back until December the previous year so it was a bit interrupted and then this year I'm coming in after a year of footy and having that footy fitness, which is completely different.
"There's no replacement for playing. I've felt like I've got my legs back a bit and then I had the momentum and I was able to get a good pre-season."
It's been well documented Thomas spent part of his suspension travelling and driving an Uber in Brisbane.
And, it's known how grateful he is to have been given a second chance to prove he was worth sticking with when injuries – mainly foot stress fractures – threatened his career early on.
"You learn to appreciate it being out in the real world, so to speak," he said.
"I was always looking forward to getting back and the club has been a great support with family and friends as well.
"The transition was as seamless as it could be and I'm loving being back."
His dedication and remorse hasn't gone unnoticed, with coach Nathan Buckley acknowledging the challenging journey Thomas has endured to get to where he is now.
"Two years out of the game and not playing is a long time," Buckley said.
"He's stuck to it last year and he's just really been able to continue to work his way in.
"He's been really strong through pre-season, he earned his opportunity in front of some other guys who were coming in through that midfield role and the high forward roles.
"He's got some significant talent especially in and around the ball, he's an underrated runner but he just keeps finding himself in the right spots as he did today."
Thomas just wants to keep his head down this year and work on his newly shaped role that often starts at the centre bounce before he "flicks forward" to offer a new avenue to goal.
After what he described as a "stop-start" pattern to his career to date, he wants to capitalise on his current form and make up for lost time.
"I had some momentum going into this pre-season and to have a full pre-season I feel completely different this year," he said.
"Hopefully that translates into a successful year. It's nice to start the year in the team and now I can just focus on staying in the team and playing my role every week, so it's nice."