IT HAS been a smooth transition back into the AFL for Cam McCarthy after a year out of the game, but the wide-roaming Fremantle spearhead admits he's nearly ready for a rest.
McCarthy has played every match in his debut season as a Docker, and is due to line-up against the Brisbane Lions in a must-win clash for Freo's finals hopes at the Gabba on Saturday.
Then the Dockers will enjoy a break over their bye round, and the 22-year-old is keen to put his feet up after a taxing return to football.
"The body's been pretty good. It's been a pretty smooth transition," McCarthy told AFL.com.au.
"I had a good pre-season, I didn't miss many sessions, but obviously the game's gotten quicker and it changes all the time, so my body's getting tired and I'm looking forward to the break."
It was difficult to know what McCarthy would deliver in 2017 after he sat out last season with depression and anxiety adjustment disorder, which sparked his decision to return home from Greater Western Sydney after two years.
The talented 192cm forward had proven himself at the Giants, when he booted 35 goals from 20 games in 2015, but even he wasn't sure what to expect upon his return to the sport.
However, a mountain of work behind the scenes in his year off – including training with South Fremantle, hiring a personal trainer and boxing coach – helped him launch into pre-season and had everyone at the club excited.
And it didn't take long for Dockers fans to take a shine to the hard-working forward.
A six-goal haul in the final JLT Community Series win over Carlton raised hopes for life after Matthew Pavlich, and while McCarthy has shut down suggestions he can replace the Freo legend, he has held up his end of the bargain in a new-look attack.
Halfway through the campaign he leads the goalkicking with 15.14 on the board, is Fremantle's No.1 target inside 50 and regularly pushes onto the wings (64 per cent of disposals in midfield) to provide an outlet from defence.
Not everything went McCarthy's way early – he booted 1.5 in the round one loss to Geelong and had little chance to make an impact the following week as Freo was pummelled by Port Adelaide.
That humbling defeat looked like a disaster at the time, but in hindsight it was the turning point in the Dockers' campaign – and McCarthy was a key figure in the fightback.
Over the next five games he booted 10 majors as the Dockers clawed their season back from the brink.
In round four, McCarthy picked up 20 touches and contributed 2.3 – including the match-winning toepoke – as the Dockers clinched a pulsating two-point victory over Melbourne at the MCG.
Two weeks later his season-best three goals in the Western Derby – the Dockers' only majors before half-time – spared some Freo blushes.
Since going goalless in the Port defeat, the mobile tall has kicked at least one major in every game, and he firmly believes the best is yet to come from Freo's youthful forward line.
"There's always still chemistry to build with me, (Shane) Kersten and (Matt) Taberner (who was dropped this week), we're all so new playing together," McCarthy said.
"I like getting up the ground and just not being a sit at home forward. At the Giants I had to play that role with (Jeremy) Cameron, (Rory) Lobb and (Jon) Patton getting in deep, so I moved up the ground.
"Ross (Lyon) knows the best way to go. It's good having 'Tabs' there as the long target … but then again me and 'Kersto' have got to be targets.
"It's something I have to work on because I haven't been that long target down the line, there's still a lot of improvement there.
"We'll get better from here. I guess so far so good."
McCarthy celebrates his winning goal against Melbourne in round four. Picture: AFL Photos
Most importantly, though, McCarthy is happy and settled in life, while his passion for football has returned.
He barracked for his ex-GWS teammates as they fell agonisingly short of last year's Grand Final, but now he's pinching himself to pull on the purple guernsey of the club he supported growing up.
"It was good to see the Giants boys go so deep into finals, obviously I made a lot of great mates there and mates for life and I still keep in contact with them all," he said.
"It was tough watching footy and not being able to get out there. But it's good to be back and it's all behind me now.
"Coming home, the whole part of it was finding the passion to play footy again and see if it was there, and it was definitely there and I'm excited to be back and playing footy.
"I'm happy at home with my family and friends, the club's been unreal to me, opened their arms to me, everyone's been great."