STARING his football future in the eyes last year, Hawthorn surprise packet Dylan Moore was forced to ponder whether he'd ever get the chance to play for the club again.
But never in his wildest dreams would he have predicted he'd become the catalyst for a rousing round one win over Essendon by producing the quarter of a lifetime
Even after a starring 25-disposal performance in the final round last year against Gold Coast (which included a maiden Brownlow Medal vote), Moore departed for his post-season with no clarity on his career.
Holidays in Sydney and Byron Bay came and went before the 21-year-old returned to ramp up his off-season training program, still without a contract for 2021.
"I'll be honest, I had a lot of uncertainty heading into the final parts of the year," Moore told AFL.com.au this week.
"We got told we didn't know about list sizes and we'd have to wait a few months to find out. There was a lot of uncertainty around what I'd be doing this year (2021) and I was pretty nervous.
"I went into that game (against the Suns) thinking this could be my last game for the club so don't leave anything out there.
"That was my mentality and I think that's the mentality I've got to have now for every game."
It wasn't until a week before the NAB AFL Draft – and nine weeks after the win over the Suns – that he was told he'd be retained by the Hawks on a one-year deal and demoted to the rookie list.
Finally over his injury troubles that had limited his previous two pre-seasons, Moore wasted little time attacking the summer campaign with the most vigour of his career.
"I had about 10-14 days off and then started getting back into it and, pre-Christmas, us first-to-fourth year guys got back and just had a lot of fun," he said.
"This pre-season I just had a massive focus on getting some consistency out there and getting back to running well and feeling fit.
"Throughout the off-season we had a lot of boys committing like I've never seen before and it's really starting to flourish."
"I battled with groin injuries two pre-seasons ago and that interrupted my whole pre-season in '19 and '20 so I was hardly on the track.
"I did a few things two years ago now, seeing a few specialists trying to get on top of things and I stripped back my weights program and focused on pilates, yoga and that type of work.
"Luke Breust actually had a few groin issues early in his career and I was talking a lot to him about what he did, what helped and what didn't. Even now we still talk about how our groins are going, he's been pretty big for me."
After striking displays in the Hawks' two pre-season fixtures, Moore kept his spot for round one against the Bombers in a new-look small forward unit alongside Breust, Ollie Hanrahan and debutant Tyler Brockman.
Brockman and Hanrahan hit the scoreboard in the first half, but Moore was held to only a single disposal as the Hawks went into the main break 39 points in arrears.
A conversation with injured teammate Jack Gunston changed Moore's night as he kicked three goals from 14 disposals in the third term alone.
It was recorded by Champion Data as the third-best individual quarter of the opening round behind Adelaide's Taylor Walker (second term) and Richmond's Dustin Martin (fourth).
"I feel like some of it's got to do with luck but I'm a big believer in 'the harder you work, the luckier you get'," Moore said.
"Things obviously didn't go my way in the first half and as a team we didn't perform as well, and everyone lifted in the third quarter and I was able to get lucky with a few bounces and crumbs going my way.
"Jack Gunston actually spoke to me as well and said, 'all I want you to do is pressure and hopefully the ball will come to you'.
"So that was my attitude in the third quarter was just to harass Essendon as much as I could.
"We joke around that he's the captain of the forward line and he's obviously not playing but he's a quality player and he's had a lot of success and wants more success so he knows he has to pick up his leadership and drive us younger boys and he's done that very well."
Now with a match-winning performance under his belt, Moore insists his approach won't change as he prepares for career game No.12 against Richmond on Sunday.
"Who knows what's going to happen next year, who knows what's going to happen next round?" he said.
"Right now I'm trying to live and play like it's my last day at the club."