FOR CHARLIE Curnow, Friday night is 761 days in the making.
All that time ago, Curnow's right knee buckled as he contested a groundball with Fremantle's Ethan Hughes. Described by the club later in the day as a 'low grade medial injury', it would be his last slice of senior action for more than two years.
Just a fortnight prior to that defining clash with the Dockers, Curnow's athleticism, strength, power and his elite aerobic capacity had been on show against the Western Bulldogs. His career-high seven goals reflected the immense potential of one of the League's brightest young prospects.
Then just 22 years of age, Curnow kicked five goals in the second half alone to drag the Blues from 34 points down to a position of strength in the game. All within a truly dominant hour of football.
His performance on that Saturday night had followed a 2018 campaign where Curnow provided one of few highlights in Carlton's two-win season. His 34-goal return featured bags of five against Richmond, four against Port Adelaide and a memorable high-marking display against Collingwood.
His leap over Tom Langdon (watch it in the player below) drew comparisons with Carlton great Alex Jesaulenko's grab in the 1970 Grand Final, but it was also part of an afternoon's work that included 19 disposals, 10 marks and three goals against the Magpies.
What made that one of the finest individual displays of Curnow's 58-game career so far was the manner in which he worked his opponents over throughout the afternoon. That mark was taken on half-back and, immediately, the 192cm forward wheeled away to start the attacking chain in the opposite direction.
Indeed, while Curnow's skills could very well be rusty upon his return to AFL football on Friday night, that fantastic engine hasn't gone anywhere. In fact, it's his ability to stretch the game high up the field, then work back to goal, that the Blues believe has been the most noticeable aspect from his pair of VFL scratch matches over the last fortnight.
The athleticism, the high-leaping and the outrageous moments of individual quality that have punctuated his interrupted young career will hopefully return one day. But his work ethic has never left.
The reward for his remarkable 2018 campaign was a four-year contract extension, tying him to the club until at least the end of the 2023 season, as well as a third-place finish in the Blues' best and fairest.
But almost since that season, setback after frustrating setback has stalled a career that had no ceiling. It started with that medial ligament injury against Fremantle, which would rule Curnow out for the remaining eight games of the year.
He suffered a hairline stress response to the knee in April last year, ruling him out for the entire 2020 season. A stress injury to his patella, sustained last November, then delayed his 2021 return. Until now.
Questions might have arisen over whether Carlton is supposedly 'rushing' Curnow back, but this was the plan all along. Months ago, the club arranged for the mobile forward to return to full training by June, VFL action by the start of July, and senior football by the end of the month. He has ticked every box and has the self-belief that he is ready to go.
What will make Curnow's comeback on Friday evening all the more special is that he will do it alongside Harry McKay. The Coleman Medal leader had not been expected to feature, having missed last week's defeat to North Melbourne with a toe injury.
Carlton has long dreamed of the two young key forwards terrorising opposition defenders together since recruiting both to the club in the 2015 NAB AFL Draft, one with pick No.10 and the other with pick No.12.
However, extraordinarily, this week's clash with St Kilda will be just the 24th time out of a possible 124 games that they will play together. McKay's inability to break into the Blues' team during his initial years in the system, combined with Curnow's recent injury problems, have put those plans on hold.
But finally, they will come to fruition once more at Marvel Stadium. For Curnow, supporters of any persuasion will surely hope his long-awaited return is worth the wait.