EVERY year for the last three seasons, Sam Docherty has circled round eight.
The eighth game of each of those three seasons was supposed to signify not only the personal milestone of his 100th AFL match, but also a personal milestone in his long road to recovery.
Docherty's hopes of reaching the landmark figure in 2018 were cruelly denied when he ruptured the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during pre-season. It meant 12 months of rehab awaited.
The Carlton co-captain's dreams of then reaching the milestone in 2019 were again taken from him, when he ruptured the same ACL in his left knee in an innocuous training incident before Christmas. It meant another 12 months in rehab.
After two whole seasons out of the game, his long-awaited AFL return finally came in March of this year. For Docherty, the countdown to round eight could begin again. Only for a global health pandemic to put those plans on hold once more.
After what seems like an eternity, Docherty will finally reach round eight – and his 100th AFL match – in this weekend's clash with North Melbourne.
By the time Saturday rolls around, it would have been 1064 days – or just a month short of three whole years – since the inspirational Blues skipper started circling round eight on the fixture.
"It's taken a fair bit longer than I thought it would," Docherty said.
"There's an added significance, definitely, because of the time I spent away from the game.
"I'd be lying if I said there weren't times during those two years where I didn't think I was going to get here in the end.
"It was one of the things I did every year, I picked where round eight was going to be for the last two years. Unfortunately, it didn't happen, so I'm just excited being back playing footy.
"It's exciting to be back and to be part of the team, so getting to the three-figures is a significant milestone for myself but also my wife back home. She's been through a fair bit of this stuff with me.
"It's exciting times, so I'm rapt to be able to run out there."
Docherty had been stopped in his prime, having earned his maiden Virgin Australia AFL All Australian guernsey on the half-back line in the 2017 season that preceded the first of his dual ACL injuries.
However, he has returned to the game in 2020 as though he has never missed a beat. He's averaging 22.6 disposals and seven marks per game, marshalling the Blues backline in his typically accomplished manner.
"It was a long time off," Docherty said.
"The toughest thing has been getting my touch back in-game. I feel like I've come back and performed my role in the team, but as with every AFL player you're always looking for that extra bit. I still wish I was playing better footy than I am at the moment.
"I probably learnt a lot more about my mental health when I was out of the game. Being able to come back as a leader of the club and being able to read the group and help them as much as I can, that's been the biggest thing I've learnt over my time off."