FROM handwritten letters to Alastair Clarkson a decade ago, to phone calls with Andrew Carrazzo earlier this week, Ed Curnow has never stopped looking for ways to get the best out of himself.
It's that hunger, desire and drive that has led the Carlton veteran from an AFL delisting at just 18 years of age, to broken legs at Box Hill, and eventually to a 200-game career worth admiring.
Curnow himself would be the first to admit he's hardly the most skilled footballer in the competition. Laughing about his achievements earlier this week, the 31-year-old joked he was hardly the most skilled in his family.
But a commitment to the cause, an elite engine and an unwavering attitude, as well as an endless aspiration to make it as an AFL footballer, underpin his journey to Ikon Park and to a 200-game milestone that will be celebrated against North Melbourne on Saturday.
It was those qualities that had initially earned Curnow a place on Adelaide's rookie list in 2008. That oft-forgotten season in the tireless midfielder's career would ultimately prove one of the hardest. Forget about an AFL debut, there were times he could hardly crack Glenelg's senior SANFL side.
A delisting followed and brought with it moments where Curnow considered whether he would make it as an AFL footballer. Of all people, it was his future Carlton coach Brendon Bolton – then in charge of VFL outfit Box Hill – who convinced him to return to Victoria and start again.
Curnow spent two seasons under Bolton on Box Hill's list, competing for the attention of AFL recruiters with fellow soon-to-be senior footballers like Sam Gibson, Cam Pedersen and Sam Iles. But it was the future Blue who was the standout, with his 2010 season ultimately paving the way for his return to the big time.
That campaign wasn't without its setbacks, though. Curnow was the most dominant state-league footballer in the country at that stage, before breaking his leg in horrible circumstances at Trevor Barker Oval with eight games remaining in the season.
Such was his form, Curnow defied his lengthy absence to still claim Box Hill's best and fairest that year while finishing second in the JJ Liston Trophy for the VFL's best player. Hawthorn committed to recruiting him as a 21-year-old rookie. The club's only issue? Carlton got in first.
"I was always passionate and wanted to be an AFL player and I was still really disappointed that Adelaide didn't give me that chance," Curnow said earlier this week ahead of his 200th game.
"That really drove me. The first year at Box Hill, I didn't get drafted. I didn't play that well, but I still probably should've got drafted after one year. I remember being really disappointed and thinking about throwing it in and going overseas like other guys my age, but I stuck at it for one more year and it really paid off.
LADDER PREDICTOR Where will your club finish?
"I spoke with 'Bolts' and a few other guys and I came up with a plan to start throwing my name around with coaches. I remember getting one of the Box Hill analysts to make up a little CD of my highlights.
"I sent that off and wrote a letter to Clarko and I was going to start handing it out to other clubs. Hawthorn gave me great confidence that they'd pick me up, so after a lot of wallowing in the hospital after surgery I actually felt pretty good. I was still uncertain, and I didn't go until late in the rookie draft, but I got there in the end."
Curnow's self-belief in his ability to make it as an AFL footballer was justified early in his Carlton career. Having cracked a midfield comprised of Chris Judd, Marc Murphy, Andrew Carrazzo and Bryce Gibbs to make a round one debut in 2011, the mature-aged recruit started with six successive 20-plus disposal outings from his first six games.
He has since followed that with six top-five finishes in the last eight Carlton best and fairest counts, including three successive top-three placings in the past three seasons, making the most of his long-awaited opportunity.
Now well into his 11th season at the club and set to turn 32 later this year, that desire to continually improve hasn't stopped. In fact, a phone call placed earlier this week to another Blues champion demonstrates Curnow's endless motivation to get better.
"I was only speaking to Andrew Carrazzo earlier this week about the way he got the most out of his career and the way that he played. I really admired that and I admired the way he trained," Curnow said.
"You've got to be in a hurry. If I could have done it differently, I don't think I would have. You need to learn to push yourself and make it as quickly as you can. You've got to be pushing coaches and working as hard as you possibly can to be a better player every game and every week.
"But I wouldn't say I'm the best role model. I'm a bit unconventional with things. I don't really like massages, I don't really like physio, I don't really like being touched. I love the 'doing' parts of footy, so I've always put a premium on being out there no matter if I'm sore or not. I hold a high standard for myself in that area."
But if Curnow doesn't think he's the best role model, he might be the only one. According to Carlton coach David Teague, it's his leadership that has paved the way for the Blues' younger crop of players to make it to the next level.
"There are so many different chapters to his story. The one I love is that he's a two-time Club Person of the Year. I think that, in itself, is an indication of who he is," Teague said earlier this week.
"He cares about the club, he puts the club and the team first and he's been great for this footy club. It's good to see him get to 200 games, because it hasn't been easy and he's worked hard. I know our boys love him. He's quite annoying, too. Let's not forget that. He can annoy the living daylights out of his teammates, but they love the way he does it."
Five seasons after Curnow arrived at Carlton, his younger brother Charlie followed suit. But their paths to Ikon Park couldn't have been more different. Where Ed battled and scrapped for his chance on a rookie list at the Blues, Charlie arrived as one of the NAB AFL Draft's most highly coveted prospects.
That contrast in their football journeys has surprisingly brought the two brothers, eight years apart in age, closer together during their time with the football club. It's also helped Curnow accept the challenges that have come his way.
"He's helped my footy a lot," Curnow said.
"He's a gun and has a great presence and energy. He's got so much belief in his ability and that hasn't gone away. That's really helped my footy, because I was always someone who was trying to prove people wrong. Coming from being delisted, you feel like you're always trying to build yourself up and tell yourself that you're good enough.
"That's your footy career. You're asking yourself if you're good enough or what you're doing is right and you're always questioning your belief. Charlie is a great person to have around when you're like that."
BROWNLOW PREDICTOR Who's leading the race for Charlie?
Now approaching a 200-game milestone a long time in the making and having worked so hard to get this far, how many more years are left in the tank?
"Ten years maybe," Curnow laughed.
"I'll keep playing until they kick me out and when they do, I'll go happily. I've said to 'Teaguey' a few times, 'mate if you're getting sick of me let me know'. I've had a great time, I've got to start a family here and develop outside of footy. When it ends, it'll end.
"At the moment, I'll just train as hard as I can and try to be a better player for next week and next year and make it harder for players to kick me out of the side."