THERE were times during a lengthy rehab this season that Port Adelaide young gun Xavier Duursma doubted he would be able to return and get rid of the sour taste last year's finals exit against Richmond left in his mouth.
Surgery to repair ligament damage in right knee in April was followed by patella tendinitis and quad setbacks during a three-month recovery, as Duursma watched others join and then leave the Power rehab group.
But after an extended fight to get his knee right and regain confidence in his five games back, the exciting 21-year-old feels ready to return to his best and wants redemption for his team this finals series.
"I've got a pretty sour taste in my mouth from last year's prelim final. It left a bit of a metal scar there and I want to rectify that personally," Duursma told AFL.com.au.
"I feel like I've got a lot of unfinished business there and we had every right to be in the Grand Final last year and we just couldn't get there.
"It's a sore spot for me and I want to make sure I do everything I can this year to help us get into the Grand Final, and that starts with this game this week."
Duursma's 2021 is typical of Port Adelaide's in many ways, with the club's list undergoing 15 surgeries during the year – more than double its previous most in a season – but getting the majority of its best team together just in time.
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The Power have had their doubters, particularly after losses to all of their top-four rivals, and Duursma too had moments where he didn't think he would be able to make a success of 2021.
"There were definitely things during my rehab that knocked me around, and I had thoughts go through my head that maybe you're not going to make it back in time," he said.
"I know the club trusts me and can trust me, and I knew that when I was ready to go, he (coach Ken Hinkley) would put me back in.
"But at the same time, I still had some stuff I needed to try and get through and I had those doubts.
"That was my first surgery and I've never really been out of the game for that amount of time, so it was a learning curve for me and it's not easy."
The result of the adversity faced by Duursma and the Power is a different type of pride in returning to finals and hosting a second consecutive qualifying final at Adelaide Oval.
For others, the looming clash against Geelong could bring back memories of Duursma's critical tackle and courageous effort running back with the flight in last year's opening final on a Thursday night.
But the youngster's memories are limited from that 16-point win after suffering concussion and being ruled out of the game.
"I remember a few things, like laying a good tackle in the middle of the ground and the boys took advantage and we got a goal out of it at a crucial time," he said.
"But about two minutes later that's when I did my thing and got smashed. That's about all I remember."
The preliminary final against Richmond two weeks later is a better reference point for Duursma when it comes to learning about playing in big finals.
"It was an honour to go and play against them and it makes you appreciate just how hard winning is," he said.
"I felt like we did everything we could and we just couldn't get there in the end.
"The learning curve was to do everything, but then dig even deeper.
"It still hurts now, knowing what could have been, but I definitely think we're going to be better for it as a team."