WITHIN the space of three months, dynamic Gold Coast half-forward Ben Ainsworth has gone from the biggest disappointment of his football life to arguably the best form of his career.
Following a round nine hammering from Brisbane, Ainsworth was dropped to the VFL.
Now in his fifth season, the No.4 pick from the 2016 NAB AFL Draft had played 65 games without being axed.
LADDER PREDICTOR Where will your club finish?
He'd had injuries – plenty of them – but never been left out because of poor form.
Speaking to AFL.com.au, Ainsworth admitted initially it was something he struggled to handle.
"It was different. I'd never experienced anything like that before," he said.
"I had to lean on a few blokes that had been in a similar position.
"No one's ever impressed when they get dropped, but I think I saw the brighter side of things after a couple of games in the twos. I think I've become a better footballer."
Ainsworth said former Tiger Brandon Ellis had been a great sounding board, recalling his own omission in early 2017 before returning to help Richmond win the premiership that year.
All up Ainsworth spent five weeks out of the senior side, forcing his way back in with 21 disposals and three goals against Sydney and then 24 and four against Aspley in his final two VFL games.
"My mindset after speaking to a few blokes was to just go out and play footy," he said.
"When you're in a form slump you tend to overthink things a fair bit. You can overdo it in terms of watching vision, doing this and that, doing extra touch.
"For me it was just about going back, enjoying my footy and performing to a high level."
TRADE HUB All the latest player movement news
Ainsworth said when he was recalled for round 15 against North Melbourne he had a new sense of "freedom".
Although his statistics are not alarmingly different, anyone watching closely can see Ainsworth's increased impact.
In his seven games back, he's been responsible for directly assisting nine goals, but there's more to work on, he says.
"It definitely feels like I'm having more of an impact, which is pleasing, and I think that comes back to playing with that freedom and not going into my shell," he said.
"I think I'm building. There's definitely been patches when I've executed a lot better.
"In front of goals (he's kicked 12.16 for the season) is something I've worked tirelessly at, just getting better at executing my work.
"I pride myself on workrate, so if I can bring both sides of workrate and executing and finishing in front of goal, I'll go a long way towards being a better player."