THE CHRISTMAS break at Arden Street was in sight.
Second-year Kangaroo Curtis Taylor, after playing two senior games in his debut season, had reached the last training day of the year and was looking forward to a physical and mental refresh.
Then came the curveball that Taylor now describes as "the best thing that's happened" in his brief AFL career to date.
Rhyce Shaw called the 19-year-old into his office for a chat, where the North Melbourne coach effectively told him he wasn't doing enough and challenged him to work harder.
"I didn't realise I was (going through the motions) … but the coaches realised I could go to another level – and I wasn't trying to get to that level," Taylor told AFL.com.au.
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"The coaches felt I was doing just the bare minimum and pretty much said if I wanted to have a good career as an AFL footballer, then I had to do more and go outside myself and do things to make me get better.
"It was a pretty stern meeting but it's really paid off."
Rather than walking out of the club that day with his bottom lip near-dragging on the floor – as some footballers have in those situations – Taylor committed to change.
Additional 6.30am weights sessions, among other extras, became part of his weekly routine, but his transformation was as much noticeable for his new appetite for pushing himself in compulsory training.
Dual Syd Barker medallist Shaun Higgins might have noticed Taylor watching him a bit more often, too.
One brutal running session post-Christmas packed with repetition sets ahead of North's first AFL Players' Association mandated mini-break was when Taylor found his confidence.
The teenager not only performed well, he won some of them.
"I felt like I pushed myself to a new level that I didn't know I had," he said.
Prominent heads at the Roos continued to turn through ensuing training sessions and internal match simulation.
Taylor's specky against the Western Bulldogs in the third quarter of the clubs' Marsh Community Series opener in late February was his highlight, but that half of football also proved he belonged.
The high half-forward had already displayed his ability at state league level last year but couldn't replicate it in two senior appearances that produced a combined 12 disposals and no goals.
"There's a lot more going on – the speed of ball - and there are more things around you. My debut game was a bit of a blur for me," he said.
"So adapting to that and just finding confidence again is a big thing, because you know you can do it at VFL level but you just want to know if you can do it at AFL level.
"I feel much better equipped this time around."
Two events subsequently conspired to lock Taylor in for his third AFL game, on Sunday against the retooled Saints.
Firstly, resident defensive workhorse Kayne Turner sustained a serious foot injury, then came Taylor's breakout performance – a 21-possession, two-goal effort at Sydney's expense.
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He wasn't perfect but his kicking skills helped generate six inside 50s and eight North scores, while his work ethic ensured he won plenty of the Sherrin.
"'Kayno' went down and there was an opportunity for someone to take that high half-forward role he played so well and is valued so much by us," Taylor said.
"I wanted to be the one to take that spot."
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Taylor's now a long way separated from the kid who watched forlornly as he slid from a probable first-round draft pick in 2018 (he was invited to attend the opening night) all the way to pick 46.
The Kangaroos' recruiting team clearly knew something others didn't, and traded up the order to snaffle him.
Some additional prodding from Shaw appears to have unlocked that potential.
"I was feeling a bit like, 'Am I going to get picked up?' but as soon as North Melbourne read out my name and traded up to get me, all those emotions were let out and I forgot about that," Taylor said.
"What I was thinking was I was going to repay this football club and do everything I can to show it was a good choice to pick me up."