THERE was a period earlier this season where Josh Fahey's future was up for debate.
The promising Canberra-born prospect had put himself in top-20 contention ahead of this year's NAB AFL Draft, with his dash off half-back and his booming left-foot kick catching the attention and capturing the imagination of AFL recruiters.
Understandably, most clubs across the League wanted to evaluate his development. But they also wanted clarity on whether Fahey, the most impressive Northern Academy talent in this year's crop, would be available in an open draft.
Fahey, a member of the Giants Academy since under 13s, relocated to the Gold Coast for his father's work in January last year. While there he spent three months with the Suns' Academy, playing two games, before returning to Canberra ahead of this season.
However, under AFL rules, a player must have spent five consecutive years in a Northern Academy to be eligible to then join that club. Fahey's time with the Suns had broken that run and the teenager thought his chances of one day playing for the Giants were over.
But earlier this year, Greater Western Sydney officials made an application to the AFL to again have first rights over Fahey and were given the tick of approval. It raised eyebrows across the recruiting ranks, but filled the youngster with a sense of ease.
Having made the decision to return to Canberra for schooling, where he credits the teaching of ex-Swans rookie Mark Armstrong as one of the biggest influences on his football development, Fahey feels at home in the charcoal and orange.
"There were a few conversations I had with a few important people around the AFL world about whether I was going to stay or go (to Gold Coast) last year," Fahey told AFL.com.au.
"I just felt the best thing to do was go with family. I felt I was probably still a bit young to be living away from mum and dad. My understanding at that time was that I was just going to go in the open draft and not come back, so I'd still be in Gold Coast this year.
"But then I had a few conversations with the Giants and they were saying they'd love to have me back in the Academy. I also felt there were better schooling opportunities down here for my career outside of footy.
"That was the main reason I came back, for my education. My footy also played a bit of a part, because my school has a very good and talented sports program. I thought I'd get the best coaching I could outside of the Academy.
"I thought I'd be no hope of being eligible (to re-join the Giants), so that was a bit of a shock when we got that answer of yes from the AFL. It was very humbling to be accepted, knowing that the AFL had approved that and knowing that the Giants were my home again."
Fahey has since put the conjecture surrounding his future and his draft eligibility behind him, also overcoming a stress reaction in his foot earlier this season to compile a promising junior campaign.
Clubs like the rebound he generates through his run and drive, as well as his penetrating kicking ability, with some recruiters of the opinion the 186cm defender could work his way into first-round contention by year's end.
His draft stock was further improved during April's NAB AFL Academy game against Geelong's VFL side at GMHBA Stadium, where Fahey claimed the MCC President's Medal for best afield following his 23-disposal performance.
It was a huge honour for the youngster, recently selected in the Allies' 39-man squad for the upcoming NAB AFL Under-19 Championships, given he overcame pick No.1 hopefuls like Nick Daicos and Jason Horne to claim the award.
"I was disappointed in the loss obviously," Fahey said.
"It was a bit of a thrashing, losing by 130 points, so that was pretty disappointing. But I just felt very humbled to receive the medal. I wasn't expecting it, either, because obviously Nick Daicos played very well.
"It was a bit of a shock, but at the same time it was very humbling and I was very grateful to receive it. It helped me in the sense it proved that I can play against AFL-listed players and perform."
Fahey's development has been further aided by three games with Greater Western Sydney's VFL team this year, where he impressed during a 24-disposal and six-mark outing against Richmond in May.
He also joined Giants skipper Stephen Coniglio for his return game following an ankle injury against Casey earlier this year, thriving with the opportunity to play alongside A-grade teammates.
"The main learning is just how professional they are," Fahey said.
"It's not really before the game where you learn that, it's being around them for the week leading into it. Just watching the things that they do, like extra recovery and extra stretching and extra touch and then once it hits game day they're not worried. They know they've done everything right and they've prepared as best as they can.
"Watching them, and watching 'Cogs' who is the skipper, it was unreal to watch how he goes about it. I learnt a few little things off him which I think I can really take under my belt that will help my game."
Now, Fahey is hopeful of getting the opportunity to join Coniglio and the other senior Giants members on a full-time basis at the end of the season. After five years tied to the club, it would be a fitting start to his AFL career.
"The Giants have been where I grew up and I learnt everything about footy from them. I wouldn't be the player that I am today without them," Fahey said.
"I feel very welcome when I do go up to the club for training. I've been there three or four times already this year and it just feels like something I could get used to."