ASKED this week about how he reflects on his move from the Western Bulldogs to Essendon at the end of 2017, Bombers gamebreaker Jake Stringer admitted he had no appetite for the past.
"To be honest, I don't really look back. I'm just looking forward," he said.
"I'm really grateful that I'm an Essendon player now and I'm looking forward to being an Essendon player for another three years at least."
But as Stringer looms as a crucial figure in Sunday's elimination final between his club and his old one, it is worth tracing through the deal that landed him at Tullamarine. It stacks up well in the Bombers' favour.
After being an All-Australian in 2015 and then featuring in the Bulldogs' premiership in 2016 (despite being dropped late in that season), Stringer fell out of favour with Bulldogs coach Luke Beveridge at the end of 2017 and was traded to Essendon with a year to run on his contract.
The Bulldogs were keen on Essendon's pick 11 to be a part of the deal but the Bombers traded that out earlier in proceedings to recruit Devon Smith from Greater Western Sydney, leaving the Dogs to target later selections.
They were stuck between a rock and a hard place, with the Bombers holding the whip hand given the Bulldogs had encouraged Stringer to look at his trade options.
The haggling continued until the final two hours of the Trade Period, finally resulting in the Bulldogs offloading the 23-year-old Stringer for picks 25 and 30.
The Dogs used pick 30, alongside pick 28 and a future second-round selection to grab picks 16 and 40 off Carlton. They then swapped picks 25 and 40 for Brisbane forward Josh Schache, who this year has had a rebirth as a key defender, while later drafting smart left-footer Ed Richards with pick No.16.
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Salvaging Richards out of the deal, combined with the addition of key-position weapon Aaron Naughton earlier in that draft, meant the Dogs didn't leave that off-season empty-handed.
But Stringer came to the Bombers at a low-market rate and has performed above it, including being the club's leading goalkicker his first two seasons at Essendon, a mantle he will again take this season with 39 goals heading into the knockout clash in Launceston.
But Stringer has also become more than just a goalkicker. He is the most complete version of himself he has been: explosive at centre clearances and the big midfielder Essendon craves before then pushing forward and hitting the scoreboard.
His fitness has improved after a nagging Achilles injury in the pre-season, with coach Ben Rutten saying the 28-year-old, who recently signed on until the end of 2024, was in peak form.
"The off-season last year he put in a heap of work to get himself in fantastic condition and when he returned he copped a bit of an injury that did derail a bit of his pre-season, which was a real shame because he'd set himself up to have a really good pre-season," Rutten said.
"Like all players who have missed a bit of footy or training it does take a little while to build a bit of momentum and continuity in the body and training. He's still found ways throughout the season to continue to improve his game, whether it be physically or honing his craft with his footy stuff.
"He's really stable at the moment in all areas of his life so I think that's coinciding with some of the really consistent performances he's had over the back end of the season. What I've really loved about Jake is it's not all about kicking goals for Jake.
"We certainly love that, but the way he's rounded out his game in so many different facets has been the really pleasing thing and I think that's what is making him really difficult to stop at the moment."