AT THE back of Sam Menegola's mind, he just wasn't sure.
He had spent one year on Hawthorn's rookie list, then three years at Fremantle, without registering a senior game. But having been cut by the Dockers at the end of 2014, the hard-running midfielder wanted to have a final crack at the making it at AFL level.
Menegola spent the 2015 season with Subiaco in the WAFL, dominating the competition and highlighting his strengths as a ball-getter. There was no guarantee of a third AFL chance, but he wanted to be at least sure in his own mind that he had exhausted every option.
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"There was just that nagging thought that I didn't know if I'd actually played as well as I possibly could have. In some ways it was a bit of curiosity to see what level I could get to," the 28-year-old told AFL.com.au.
"I didn't feel like I'd reached the best football I could possibly produce so there was a bit of that, but once I got delisted the main thing was I just wanted to get back to enjoying it and Subiaco was a big part of that.
"I got back to playing footy because I loved it and I was excited to play footy again. It was clearly good for my footy and from there things progressed, and you get a little bit of confidence that maybe you are capable of playing footy at AFL level.
"Then I was lucky enough to get the opportunity, and it was another challenge and another thing to attack."
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That chance came via the Cats, who snapped him up as a 23-year-old recruit. On Saturday, he will be hoping to cap his ascent into a key player at Geelong by helping the Cats claim the premiership over Richmond in the Toyota AFL Grand Final.
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Menegola's story of persistence is among the many in both Grand Final line-ups, but it is one of the most striking.
Since joining the Cats he has become a fixture of their line-up, playing 85 games in five seasons. Last week was his fourth attempt at winning a preliminary final, and he heads into the Gabba premiership decider as one of the Cats' under-the-radar weapons.
Menegola said the lessons he had taken out of his time at the Hawks and Dockers had been far outweighed by what he has picked up being part of the Geelong unit.
"You're constantly learning and I've learned as much at Geelong as anything. I think you probably learn more about AFL footy by playing it, to be honest," he said.
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Menegola has become a full-time wingman, averaging nearly 22 disposals while playing every game, and booting 14 goals across the season. His career-best campaign saw him make the All-Australian squad of 40, but he did not get selected in the final team.
"I've enjoyed the continuity of just having the one role and playing that every week. It was something I started last year," he said.
"I played pretty much all last year as a wingman and I thought I was starting to build in that role before I got injured, so I think it's probably a product of having all of last year and pre-season and all of this year and that continuity. I've enjoyed that stability."
Life on the road in Queensland has been busy for Menegola, who has continued to work remotely with an insurance broker as well as helping with his young family. But he admits this week it is difficult to take his mind off the biggest prize.
"It'd be special," he said.
"I know there's a lot of people that have been involved with the Cats' journey this year that it would mean a lot to them that their sacrifice ended in that. But there's a very big obstacle in our way, a really good team in our way, and it will take a lot of work to get there."