BERNIE Vince's chance of finishing his career with a premiership remain alive with the Melbourne midfielder getting through his first game after shoulder surgery while helping the Casey Demons qualify for next week's VFL Grand Final.
But the retiring veteran admits he'll be up against it to break into the Demons' healthy AFL side, which is set to face West Coast in next week's preliminary final.
Vince had 22 disposals and kicked an impressive first-quarter goal in Casey's eight-point, come-from-behind win over Essendon on Saturday after starting the game on the bench.
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He initially played on the wing and down back, before moving into the middle and across half-forward in the second half.
Casey will now line up in next week's VFL Grand Final against the winner of Sunday's Williamstown-Box Hill clash after reeling in a third-quarter three goal deficit against the Bombers.
Vince said he was pleased to have gotten through the contested slog of a match, which was played in freezing conditions and periods of driving rain, and to have tested out his mended left shoulder in a number of bruising collisions.
Afterwards, he declared himself "100 per cent" capable of lining up in the Demons' preliminary AFL final if called upon.
"I proved it today that I could get through," Vince said.
"I've been around a long time and they know what I can do, so we'll see how we go.
"To try and play well was important, but to get through was probably the biggest thing because it was still pretty sore this week.
"I'm fast-tracking by probably two, or even three weeks, but it felt alright out there. I got hit a few times hard and it was a real contested type game, which probably wasn't the best to come back from a shoulder with.
"I enjoy playing footy and if I can help in some way here … now we're in a Grand Final, we might as well try and win the premiership, that'd be a great way to go out as well."
Vince had surgery on his damaged AC joint just five weeks ago, but knowing he would retire at the end of this season, wanted to rush his rehab process and get back playing.
He said it was one of the quickest recoveries from the type of surgery he had.
"I basically told them I was coming back after four weeks and they were like, 'I don't know about that', and I said, 'Well, I am, I've got a long time to get over it'," he said.
"The worst I can do is break it again and then I'll be in for surgery and that will be it anyway.
"As soon as I said that and made it clear I wanted to come back, they worked with me and told me what I had to do each week."
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The former Crow said he knows it’s unlikely he'll make it back to the AFL stage for a last hurrah, but he is confident in the work he's done in case the opportunity arises.
"The odds are against me. All I can do is make sure I'm available and put myself in a position where I had to get through a game first, but now I'm in a position where I can be selected," he said.
"I realise the odds are against me a bit, and it's probably going to rely on injury and I don't want injury, but I'm there if there is an injury.
"That's all I can do."
Vince, Jeff Garlett (three goals), Cam Pedersen (two goals), and Tom Bugg (22 disposals) were among the AFL-listed Demons to catch the eye on Saturday, although a third-quarter incident involving Bugg and high contact on Essendon's Josh Green will be reviewed.
Green was momentarily dazed after the collision and spent a long time on the bench before finishing the game.
Midfielder Jay Kennedy-Harris was also good in the greasy conditions with 20 disposals, while Jayden Hunt had 14.
For the Bombers, Aaron Francis took six marks and was one of their best while Dylan Clarke had 30 disposals and Kobe Mutch 21.
The majority of Melbourne's list, plus Simon Goodwin and his coaching staff, braved the wintery conditions at Port Melbourne's Stannards Stadium to see the Demons qualify for next week's decider.
Among them was Christian Salem despite concerns over a hamstring injury he had looked at during Friday night's game, although he did finish the match.