SYDNEY star Isaac Heeney remains confident of lining up in the Swans' round one clash as he continues a "slow but steady" recovery from his shattering ankle injury last season.
Heeney's 2020 was ended after round six when he suffered a serious ankle injury against Richmond, including a dislocation and ruptured medial ligament and tendon after being tackled.
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Seven months following his surgery the gun Swan is running and training on the sidelines and is hopeful of getting back with the main group imminently.
"Touch wood there's been no hiccups. I've put a lot of work into it and made sure I've done the right things. The surgeon's extremely happy and thinks I'm past where I should be, which is nice," Heeney told AFL.com.au.
"The work I've put in is positive for my ankle at the moment. I'm not far off, I'm doing a lot of agility, game base [work] without the contact but that's the next step for me – the contact work and that will put some more strain through my ankle. Hopefully after that I'm not far off some game simulation."
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The Swans start their 2021 campaign against Brisbane at the Gabba, with the 24-year-old high-flyer targeting that game as his return – and even the club's AAMI Community Series clash against Gold Coast on March 7.
"I hope so [for round one], fingers crossed. I'll be aiming for it for sure but I don't want to say anything just in case. Touch wood everything goes really smoothly and I'll be right for round one," he said.
"The target will definitely be the practice game and at least getting some minutes in there."
The most serious injury of Heeney's exciting AFL career has meant for some hard times on the sidelines. The original surgery included three different procedures to correct the damage done to the ankle, while he required follow-up stem cell treatment to help restore the cartilage he had removed as part of the initial operation.
Heeney said that experience was far from pleasant but reduced the bone-on-bone residue of the ankle injury.
"I wasn't really sure what to expect. I got on the table and they didn't knock me out – they kept me awake and filled me full of local anesthetic. It was one of the weirdest things I've ever done," he said.
"There was a lot of pain. They had to fill my butt cheeks and my [legs] with local anesthetic so that was painful initially and occasionally they'd hit a spot that wasn't under local anesthetic so that would make me jump a bit.
"The few days after that it was pretty sore and bruised and I couldn't sit down for probably three days which was a pain in the arse – literally."
The powerful Heeney quickly became a staple of Sydney's line-up, with the Academy product playing 20 or more games in the four seasons preceding 2020. But slowing down, and taking his rehabilitation cautiously, has also been a challenge.
"I like going (like) a bull at a gate every time I'm out on the training track and I've had to really reduce that," he said.
Heeney was one of a number of key players injured as the Swans dropped to third last on the ladder last year, with Lance Franklin, Josh Kennedy and Dane Rampe all missing chunks of their campaign.
He had settled as an inside-50 option last year, starting with a four-goal haul in round one, and expects that to be the same this season, with some stints up the ground. The Swans adding Heeney and Franklin, who had hamstring and groin troubles last year, back into their forward line gives coach John Longmire the firepower that was lacking.
"He's (Franklin) actually working really hard at the moment. We're on a pretty similar time frame but he's looking really fit and strong and has put a lot of work in at the gym so fingers crossed his body's made a bit of a turn for the better because he's an absolute superstar," Heeney said.
"Even that thought of him getting to 1000 goals (Franklin is on 944) gets the boys up and about as well. It's probably one of those things that will never be reached again so hopefully he can get out on the track and reach it. It's pretty incredible to be honest."