LUCKLESS Western Bulldogs midfielder Clay Smith is confident he will make a successful comeback to senior football next season following a torrid run with injuries.
Over the past 16 months, the 21-year-old has been dealt a cruel hand.
In July 2013 he underwent his first knee reconstruction after rupturing the ACL in his right leg.
After an interruption-free rehabilitation, his comeback stalled in April this year when he contracted salmonella poisoning.
Then in round 10, in his first senior appearance since the reconstruction, Smith injured the AC joint in his shoulder.
Two months later in the VFL, the Bulldogs' first-round pick in the 2011 NAB AFL Draft twisted his knee awkwardly, rupturing the ACL in his right knee for a second time.
"The last 12 to 16 months have been pretty tough," Smith told AFL.com.au.
"But there are probably players and people out there who have been through worse.
"I think it was just unlucky in the way that I turned and how I did it and they said even if I had done it on my left leg I still would have done my ACL. They happen in footy and there are players who have had two or three and got back.
"That's just footy and hopefully I've got my bad luck out of the way. I'm just looking forward to playing footy again."
Smith said he hadn’t taken a more conservative approach to his rehabilitation this time around, despite a recurrence of the injury in the same knee.
The club has yet to put a timeline on his return to competitive football, but Smith is hopeful he'll be back playing mid-year and is "definitely confident" he can crack into the senior side.
The feisty midfielder returned to the Whitten Oval on Wednesday for the start of the Bulldogs' pre-season and resumed running for the first time, albeit on the Alter-G (anti-gravity) treadmill.
"I ran with a smile which is probably not normal, but it's good to get back and be able to run," Smith said.
"I feel a bit more normal and am excited to start getting into it.
"I'll run on the Alter-G over the next few weeks to build strength through my hamstrings and legs, and then hopefully start running outside, which will be pretty straight-line stuff.
"After that I'll move on to changing direction, and then build back up to regular training."