ESSENDON veteran Brent Stanton believes the year he and his fellow suspended Bomber teammates spent out of the game will assist in extending their careers.
Describing the 12-month WADA-imposed suspension as the toughest thing he has faced in his life, Stanton said his time on the sidelines made him realise how much he appreciates playing for the Bombers.
"We tried to make this (experience) into a positive and most of the players have found out a lot about themselves," Stanton said in an interview on SEN.
"There's not too many opportunities in your career where you can step away from something that you love and reflect on what you've done over the past 12 years, five years or for however long you've been playing.
"That's enlightened the players a lot on how to get the best out of themselves for however long their career is."
While many teammates took the opportunity to travel overseas, Stanton's role as a father to two young children took priority.
The 30-year-old still managed to visit places like Broome and he also revealed he took a keen interest in how the club was faring during his time away.
"I travelled with the team interstate a few times and went and watched as a spectator," Stanton said.
"It was an interesting way to see football, especially away from your comfort zone at Etihad Stadium. Walking to the ground, I don't think I've done that for 13 years.
"So it was a great experience in those terms and to feel the game from a spectator's point of view."
Stanton said he received a lot of support from Essendon fans once the Court of Arbitration for Sport's verdict to ban the 34 past and present Essendon players for the 2016 season was handed down.
The length of the saga, which first came to light after investigations into the club's ill-fated supplements program in 2012, was mentally draining for Stanton.
"The first six weeks after we were suspended was the toughest time," Stanton said.
"You didn't want to do anything. You didn't want to go anywhere.
"But there's been a lot of support and it was more so, 'We hope you're back next year' and 'we feel for what you've been through.'"
Stanton said he won't feature just as a midfielder in 2017 and he expects to have stints at half-forward or half-back as he adapts to the interchange cap rotation.
Stanton, who will be looking to add to his 248 games in his 13th season, said the club's fitness staff had been careful in managing the programs of the returning Bombers.
"Throughout the year (2016) we were probably fit enough, but the instant decisions you have to make in changing direction, your body's not used to that (movement)," Stanton said.
"At the end of the day the programs are that good that we should be able to come back in and play at a high level. The training is so specific these days that I can't see too many issues."