HAWTHORN recruit Jon Patton has described the AFL's season shutdown as a "kick in the guts" after missing the previous season-and-a-half recovering from his latest knee injury.
Patton kicked one goal against Harris Andrews and Brisbane in round one in his first match since suffering his third anterior cruciate ligament rupture in round 15, 2018.
The 26-year-old was fully recovered in the latter stages of last season but opted to remain on the sidelines to ensure he was in the best possible condition for this year.
The Hawks' long-held interest in Patton was potentially another factor in that decision, and Greater Western Sydney eventually agreed to send the No.1 pick from the 2011 NAB AFL Draft to Waverley Park.
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Patton has played only 13 games since the 2017 season ended, with the global coronavirus pandemic again placing his career on hold.
"If only this happened for me last year. I could have played towards the end of last year but I made the call to make sure I was 100 per cent right for this year," he told Channel Nine.
"So when we got to walk off the ground at the end of round one and we found out we won't be playing for a few months or however long, that was a bit of a kick in the guts.
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"I've been waiting so long to play again, and now I'm fit and healthy, so it was a bit of a blow, but at the same time, like anyone, you just have to regroup.
"Some guys probably had a niggle going through the pre-season, so it might have helped quite a few blokes, but I would have loved to just keep playing."
Patton, one of the game's best forwards across 2016 and 2017 with 83 goals, is still adjusting to the extra attention he attracts in Melbourne compared to his Sydney life outside of the AFL bubble.
But he's thriving at Hawthorn, under four-time premiership coach Alastair Clarkson's clear direction and alongside high-profile teammates Chad Wingard and Tom Mitchell.
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"(Wingard)'s been a star for a long time but some of the things he does in training – it just reminds you how good he is when he's healthy, which he is now," Patton said.
"Also Tommy Mitchell, he's won a Brownlow, so he's got the accolades, but since I've been there he's pretty much been in rehab the whole time.
"Especially for a player like myself who's been in rehab so much; you can kind of look at a bloke and see if they're going through the motions in rehab, whereas he's definitely not.
"It's no wonder why he played in round one and played really well. His professionalism is just amazing. He's always doing something … it's very impressive."