FORMER No.1 draft pick Paddy McCartin is set to play his first competitive match for more than two years when he lines up for Sydney's VFL team in its season-opener on Saturday.
But the key forward already has a bigger goal, stating: "I want to play AFL."
McCartin made a successful return to footy in a Swans' VFL practice match last weekend, after stepping away from the game to deal with complications resulting from repeated concussions.
The 24-year-old's previous match was in the 2019 pre-season, when a knock to the head and subsequent concussion left him suffering severe light sensitivity, dizzy spells, sleep deprivation and headaches.
"I absolutely loved playing again. It was so fun," McCartin told AFL.com.au. "It was what I've been trying to get back for, for a couple of years.
"It was a bit of an emotional build up. A lot of reflecting on the last couple of years and how I got to where I am now, and a lot of the things that myself and those close to me have had to go through in that time."
McCartin made his name at junior and AFL level as a 195cm key forward, but started his first match in Swans' colours in the backline to help him pick up a few early touches.
After one quarter in defence, McCartin spent the next quarter in the forward line before calling it a day. The plan is for him to play a full game this week.
"I did a lot of pre-season down back, just so I had everything in front of me and could mitigate some of the risk of the head knocks early on," he said.
"It'll come down to what the Swans need. They're going pretty well with injuries at the moment, so I'll just slot in wherever they need me."
St Kilda selected McCartin with pick No.1 in the 2014 NAB AFL Draft, but the junior star wasn't able to get a good run at the top level as he suffered eight concussions in five seasons.
After 35 games and 34 goals for the Saints, McCartin was delisted at the end of 2019 so he could focus on addressing the effects of the concussions.
McCartin was prepared to give the game away if specialists declared that he was more susceptible to concussions than other people, but after being given the all-clear 18 months' ago he's now thrilled to be playing again as part of the Swans' VFL team.
"I've been on a program the last eight weeks and working closely with the AFL, so that I could be ticked off as OK to play," McCartin said.
"They were really comfortable with where I was at, and same with the Swans."
McCartin is hoping a strong start to the VFL season will encourage AFL clubs to pick him up in the mid-season draft on June 2, or the NAB AFL Draft later in the year.
"When I sat down 18 months ago and made the decision to give it another go, it wasn't just to get back to play VFL," McCartin said.
"I want to play AFL."
During his time away from footy, McCartin set up a mentoring program and business called Helping Hands. It allows McCartin to draw on his experiences with type 1 diabetes, multiple concussions and mental health issues, and pass on some of what he's learned to others.
"It's been fantastic. It gives me a real sense of fulfilment and purpose," McCartin said.
"Footy is extremely fulfilling too, but in different ways to this business, so it's great to have a balance in my life."