IT WAS a significant fork in the road of the career of Hamish Hartlett.
At the end of 2016, the Port Adelaide midfielder was weighing his options. He had signed a long-term deal the previous season through to the end of 2021 and rebuffed interest from North Melbourne to stay with the Power, but after just one season of that contract he was on the trade table.
Richmond made a play to bring him to Punt Road, while Essendon was also in the frame, but Hartlett stuck with the Power, the club that drafted him with pick No.4 in 2008, where he had stuck out some dark times early in his career and where his family links ran strong (his mum, Carol, was a member of the Port Magpies' cheer squad growing up).
Five years on, his club is in premiership contention and Hartlett, along with teammates Travis Boak and Robbie Gray (who both knocked back offers from Victoria to remain with Port), looks back on it as the right call.
"We were pretty keen to stick it out and hope that things turned the corner and thankfully they did," Hartlett told AFL.com.au.
"There was one point in time at the end of 2016 where I wasn't going so well and there was the potential there to go interstate and maybe start afresh at a different club but I was still contracted here and was quite settled with my friends and family.
"I consider myself quite a loyal person and the football club does mean a lot to me and I wanted to repay them by playing some good footy and potentially winning a premiership on the back of that. I'll fight out the rest of my days here, I think, until hopefully that happens."
In his first four seasons at Port Adelaide, Hartlett played in just 12 wins. The Power tallied that many by round 16 last season on their way to a six-point loss in a desperate preliminary final defeat to Richmond. But the first phase of his time in teal also saw off-field tragedy – the death of teammate John McCarthy in 2012 – and financial troubles.
In being one of the constants throughout the turnaround, Hartlett has taken enjoyment from Port's rise over his decade there.
"At the start of my career, in 2010, '11 and '12, we were winning three or four games a year. It was a pretty grim place to be for a few-year period and obviously we lost Johnny McCarthy who was a part of that as well and there wasn't too many things going right on field or off field for the club at that point in time," he said.
"To be here eight or nine years later and being a really successful football club – both on field and off field – nowadays is something I'm very, very proud of. Having been a part of that journey all the way through is something I reflect on pretty frequently.
"I'm just super happy to be a part of this football club now which is genuinely contending for a premiership, whereas eight or nine years ago we couldn't have been any further off the pace."
Hartlett's evolution saw him stamp his name on the competition as an attacking half-back before being moved into the midfield, where his best seasons came in 2014-15. He has returned to the defensive group, where his sweeping distribution and calm presence gives the Power stability, and he remains a part of the club's leadership group.
Out of contract at the end of this season, Hartlett wants to continue into 2022, and he finds that as his football career has gone on he has spent more time thinking about his place at Port Adelaide since being an early draft choice. Injuries, too, have given him perspective.
"I reflect on my career a bit and I have never turned into the player I expected I might or that people externally thought I might become, but I've come to terms with being a solid player," he said.
"I'm a bit of an overthinker. I do often delve into things pretty deeply and I reckon there's a psychology for a lot of guys who were really successful as junior players that don't quite get to the same heights at AFL level and I think that can get to blokes. I reckon it's gotten to me in my career.
"I have probably focused on the things I haven't achieved and they're probably more-so individual things, which as I've gotten older I haven't cared about as much.
"Don't get me wrong – I still want to contribute and be a good player from week to week and I'm still finding myself asking those questions about whether I am doing that at the level I want to. I've definitely come to terms with just being a good person and a good teammate around the football club and contributing on-field at a level which is acceptable to me and the group."
Port Adelaide has had a recent run of draftees excelling immediately as they step into the AFL – including Connor Rozee, Xavier Duursma, Zak Butters and Mitch Georgiades – but Hartlett, who has coaching ambitions in the future, said expectations should be lowered on young players as they arrive in the AFL.
"When I see a new kid come into the competition and he's getting compared to some of the greats, whether it's 'Boaky' or (Scott) Pendlebury…I often think 'I feel so sorry for this kid' because the weight of the world is right on their shoulders from the get-go'," he said.
"I feel like they deserve to develop into a man, for starters, and then get judged based on what they've done as an individual rather than being pinned against one of the other superstars of the competition."
Boak is set to return from his quad injury to face Adelaide in Saturday night's clash at Adelaide Oval, which will be Hartlett's 16th Showdown of his career.
A Showdown Medal winner in 2014, Hartlett said the Power was ready to respond after last week's big loss to the Lions, which led to some questioning Port's credentials against the best on the road.
"We're aware of some commentary externally that's been mentioned about us," he said.
"But we feel like internally and as a football club we've put a fair record together in recent times and that's based off a lot of hard work that we've done over the last couple of years and we know that when we get these learnings from opposition from time-to-time that we do respond very, very well."