ST KILDA defender Jake Carlisle says he feels like a weight has been lifted off his shoulders as he prepares to return to full training next month and put a season-long suspension behind him.
Carlisle, whose first year with the Saints was wiped out because of his involvement in the Essendon supplements scandal, is back at Seaford with the club's first-to-fourth-year players.
He is being eased into the pre-season, however, after struggling with long-term knee problems and a hip injury during his 2016 hiatus.
"I'm on track to get back mid-December. I'm a lot stronger and everything has got better, so I can't wait to get back out there with the boys," Carlisle said on Wednesday.
"It's progressed really well.
"I've managed to fix up some weaknesses in my game and I've done a lot of leg and glute stuff with the fitness guys to get that nice and strong for the pre-season.
"I'll get back out there in about a month."
Carlisle didn't join his teammates on the track on Wednesday and was restricted to an anti-gravity treadmill as he waits for the green light to start a full running program.
Young teammate Hugh Goddard, whose 2016 season was ended by an Achilles injury, was also restricted to jogging laps as he prepares to complete a 38km duathlon for charity on Sunday.
Carlisle said he had taken opportunities to catch up with Goddard during 2016 as he prepares to form a long on-field partnership with the young defender.
"We had a couple of coffees and I'm looking forward to playing with Hughey,"Carlisle said.
"We've got a good pre-season ahead of us. We're both on the sidelines now, but encouraging each other to get better and better every day.
"I think 'Browny' (ex-Collingwood defender Nathan Brown) coming in as well is going to be very handy for the club."
Carlisle used his season-long suspension to gain experience working in the construction industry and said the break had reaffirmed his love for the game.
He described the season as "tough at times" but said he enjoyed the change of pace.
"I think mentally it opened up different aspects of life and I feel like I cherish footy a lot more … it was a good experience for me," he said.
"Here we are getting back into it and I feel like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders.
"I'm at a new club now with the Saints and it's very exciting … I think I've got a bit to offer the footy club and I owe them a lot with everything that's happened."
While keen to move on from the Essendon supplements saga, Carlisle threw his support behind his former captain Jobe Watson, who handed back his 2012 Brownlow Medal last week.
"It was tough, 'Jobey' is an excellent man and I sent him a text just to let him know I'm thinking of him," Carlisle said.
"What's done is done and there's not much we can do. I do feel sorry for him, but at the same time I'm excited for him to get out there next year and hopefully have a really good year."