DANIEL Menzel is back.

The sun had risen 1450 times since he had previously played seniors with the Cats. 

On four of those days, Menzel underwent a knee reconstruction.

On 94 of those days, Geelong took the field without him.

On Friday night, however, he made a stunning return, kicking four goals, gaining 20 touches and taking a screamer in the last quarter.

The performance wasn't enough to get his team home but it was enough to remind everyone what a loss to the game, and the Cats, his enforced absence has been.

Decision time for Cats: Scott

Somehow through all the agony, that gift of his remained within, and on the MCG it was once again brought to life.

"[You] never lose your footy smarts and never lose your skills either," Menzel said after the game.

"[But] you sit on the outside you watch it and you go 'I don't know if I've still got it', but as soon as you get out there everything is still the same."

Not everything.

Menzel had 13 different teammates from that fateful night when his knee first buckled in the 2011 Qualifying Final, a moment his coach Chris Scott rates among the hardest he has had to bear in his time in the game.

Only belief kept Menzel going and the faith and support of others that he could return to the elite level. 

"We're not a charity," Scott said. 

"We stuck with him, and Nathan Vardy, because we truly believe they have the potential to go and play at the elite level."

The letters 'MTMF' etched on a wrist-band he gave to his physiotherapist Mark Young before the game against Collingwood described what underpinned the return: Mental Toughness, Mental Fortitude 

It was, in reality, uncomfortable to watch at times, even the coach admitting he had to stop himself from wincing every time the 23-year-old put himself in a seemingly vulnerable position.  

And the thought of playing, well, only Menzel can describe that.

"There is complete confidence but I do get a couple of knocks and stingers during the game that makes it a little bit sore. Right now it is pretty sore," Menzel said.

The truth is he still experiences soreness every time he trains and it will take until Tuesday or Wednesday, at least, before the knee stops screaming at him this week, the pain a reminder no amount of belief can erase.

But the pain was worth it on this night, with friends and family surrounding him and that familiar feeling returning when he kicked the Cats' first goal and his teammates mobbed him.  

"It almost feels…a sense of belonging I guess. Rehab is so lonely at times and to be back out here with the boys tonight, it was an incredible feeling," Menzel said.

Scott summed up what those watching thought of being at the ground witnessing such a special moment. 

"I loved it," Scott said.

He wasn't alone.

As disappointing as the result was for the Cats – and Menzel said he took 15 minutes to get rid of the gutted, losing feeling he has only experienced in four of his 22 games – the night was a reminder that sport can, at times, transcend the limits of what we once imagined possible. 

Before the cold hard judgments kick back in.

"I'm just so excited for him, but now we have to knuckle down and make sure this is a long term thing with Dan and with Nathan Vardy, and we can build something great for this footy club," Scott said.