NAKIA Cockatoo concedes there were times he thought of giving football away, but says Sunday's "emotional" club debut for Brisbane has validated his persistence.
With his eight disposals and one goal, Cockatoo was a rare highlight for the Lions in their 12-point loss to Hawthorn, getting through his first game at senior level since early 2018 - an absence of 1212 days.
Since last playing for Geelong, the powerhouse 24-year-old has had a horror run with injuries, battling to overcome persistent hamstring problems this season.
He described Sunday's game as an "amazing experience", playing for the first time since the recent birth of his daughter.
Cockatoo said the past few years had been a mental battle.
"It (finishing) crossed my mind at points, when I'd get another niggle, but I think mentally I've been pretty resilient," he said.
"Footy is still a dream of mine, to keep playing, and hopefully now I can take the next step and get some consistency with my footy and my body as well."
Although not getting a ton of disposals, Cockatoo's ball use was striking in a flat performance by many of his teammates.
He said despite his long absence from senior level, the game came back to him quickly.
There was no doubt about the highlight though.
"Kicking my first goal, that felt so surreal," he said.
"Callum Ah Chee, we've become pretty close, him giving me my first goal for the Brisbane Lions (with a handball) was pretty special.
"I didn't have a lot of the footy on the weekend, but just running patterns and getting to the ball and hitting my kicks, I guess all the preparation in the VFL and working with physios and trainers added up."