IT HASN'T quite been the rags to riches tale that Callan Ward was hoping for, but the former co-captain is proud of the club he has helped build over a decade at Greater Western Sydney.
Ward arrived at the Giants as one of their first uncontracted players, winning the club's first best and fairest award in 2012.
The veteran midfielder is now set to become the Giants' games record-holder when he runs out for his 172nd match in orange and charcoal this weekend against Essendon, claiming the record from Jeremy Cameron.
"It's a huge honour, to be honest. To play so many games at one club is really special and especially the club that I have been at since the very start," Ward said.
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"But I do know that it won't last very long. Once I'm long gone, there will be other players coming through who will have a whole career at the Giants.
"Jacob Hopper, Tim Taranto, Stephen Coniglio, Toby Greene, all of these guys I'm sure will overtake me in the next few years. [But] I'll hold onto it for as long as I can."
The 31-year-old admitted to some early doubts and hints of regret in his first few years at the Giants, as the new club struggled to establish itself on and off the field.
Ward left the Western Bulldogs, who made preliminary finals in three of his four years at the club, to join the fledgling start-up in western Sydney.
"There definitely were times [with doubts], and that was probably in my second year. We only had one win in the second year, which was worse than we had in the first year, so I kind of thought 'we've gone backwards here'," Ward said.
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"You do question yourself, and you hear things externally [like] 'the Giants aren't going to survive', 'what have they done, the AFL has stuffed up'.
"It probably took until year four where we really thought that we could compete with the top AFL teams, and that's when you really start to realise, I've made the right call here'."
A reflective Ward noted that past Giants coaches Kevin Sheedy and Mark Williams, and current coach Leon Cameron, have had a huge influence on him and the club since it started.
He added that James McDonald, Luke Power, Dean Brogan, Chad Cornes and Setanta O'hAilpin deserved the most credit for building the Giants' culture, but saved special mention for his co-captain of eight years, Phil Davis.
"As a footy club I think [Davis] taught our boys how to be ruthless, how to train really hard, how to be hard on your teammates, how to be honest with your teammates, and how to get better," Ward said.
"The journey over the last six or seven years in particular, after those first two or three years, has been amazing. We've played finals football, we've won finals football.
Ward hardly missed a game in his first seven seasons at the Giants, playing 156 games in that time and holding the club games record at certain periods.
That was until Ward's first game of 2019, away at Geelong in round four, when he ruptured the ACL in his left knee in the opening 10 minutes of the match.
Ward's first major, long-term injury of his career meant the co-captain at the time missed the Giants' captivating finals run to the Toyota AFL Grand Final.
"I don't think about 2019 often. It's really frustrating that I wasn't part of playing in that game and then that whole season, and I'll forever wish I was a part of that for my whole life," he said.
"But at the end of the day, I wasn't and I've got to move on from that.
"It does drive me to be part of that one day and 2021 is a perfect opportunity for that."