AS OFF-SEASON recruits settle into their new clubs over the summer, a handful of incumbents will almost feel like new players ahead of the 2024 season.
Serious injuries cost a host of gun players large chunks of the 2023 campaign, meaning they're easy to forget in the wash-up of the season.
Some weren't able to feature at all at AFL level this year and will feel as good as new for coaches as they plan ahead to 2024.
Check out the player at your club set to have a big impact next year after a frustrating 2023.
Lachlan Gollant (4 games in 2023)
The off-season departure of Shane McAdam could lead to more opportunities in 2024 for Gollant, who wasn't able to squeeze his way into Adelaide's stacked forward line this year. The 22-year-old managed just four senior appearances, including the last game of the season when he replaced the injured McAdam, but he was the fifth-highest goal-kicker in the SANFL. Spots in the forward line will again be tight in 2024, but Gollant has shown he can impact at AFL level.
Will Ashcroft (18 games in 2023)
The man who finished second in the AFL Rising Star in 2023 doesn't quite fit the 'forgotten man' criteria, but what an inclusion he will be for an already dynamic Lions midfield in 2024. Having come within a whisker of a flag without Ashcroft in 2023, Brisbane will only get better when he is back to full fitness after a heartbreaking ACL injury in July.
Zac Williams (0 games in 2023)
Almost 12 months since his 2023 season ended before it even began, Williams will be like a new recruit for the Blues in 2024. Having managed just 23 games in three seasons at Carlton, it's easy to forget just how damaging a player he can be when he's at his best. The prospect of Williams and Adam Saad launching attacks off half-back next season would warm the heart of Michael Voss, and instil fear into the other 17 clubs.
Ash Johnson (15 games in 2023)
Johnson was largely forgotten as the Pies stormed to a flag this year, having been squeezed out of the senior side late in the home-and-away season before injury ruined any hopes he had of featuring in September. But the 26-year-old could well be one of Collingwood's most important players in 2024 as the premiers look to cover the loss of Dan McStay up forward. Johnson kicked 21 goals from 15 games in 2023 - he was subbed off three times - and the Pies will need more out of him next year.
Zach Reid (0 games in 2023)
Back, foot and hamstring injuries have restricted Reid to just eight AFL games since he was selected in the top 10 at the 2020 AFL Draft, but the Bombers will be hoping a more robust version of the 202cm key defender will be able to take the field in 2024. Brad Scott will hope to eventually pair the versatile, athletic big man with Ben McKay as his twin towers down back but Reid will need to build some resilience into his game through the pre-season. The signs are good early, with the 21-year-old in full training as Christmas approaches.
Heath Chapman (3 games in 2023)
The Dockers will need the young defender to get back to something near his best after a shoulder injury ruined his 2023 campaign after just three games. Chapman showed enough in a breakout 2022 season that reaped an AFL Rising Star nomination (and the best spoil of the year) to suggest he will be an automatic selection in Justin Longmuir's best team when fit. Chapman, who will be 22 at the start of next season, could even slide up from his familiar role in defence to occupy the wing position vacated by Liam Henry after his move to the Saints.
Cam Guthrie (6 games in 2023)
'Forgotten' doesn't really work with the Cats champ, who boasts two 'Carji' Greeves Medals, a premiership and an All-Australian blazer in recent years. The Cats' midfield certainly hasn't forgotten the importance of the 236-game veteran, who played only six matches last year after suffering a toe injury. He'll add an instant injection of class and experience to Geelong's on-ball unit as Chris Scott's men seek to bounce back from just their second season without finals in 17 years.
Touk Miller (13 games in 2023)
It's admittedly a stretch to say Miller is a forgotten man, but there's no doubt he wasn't quite at his explosive best in 2023. Despite playing the final seven games of the season after a serious knee injury forced him to miss 11 rounds in the middle of the year, he wasn't able to return to the heights he reached in a superb 2022 campaign. If he can rebuild his fitness over summer, he could explode back to his best next year.
Darcy Jones (0 games in 2023)
Still yet to debut at AFL level after his 2023 season was ruined by injury, Jones is an ace up the sleeve for the Giants as they build arguably the best group of small forwards in the competition. Having ruptured his ACL in April, Jones will be hoping to get back on the park at some stage in 2024 and could be an X-factor on the road to September for coach Adam Kingsley, who already has Brent Daniels, Toby Bedford and new draftee Phoenix Gothard at his disposal.
Changkuoth Jiath (8 games in 2023)
The Hawks were admirable as they embarked on a reset under Sam Mitchell this year, but imagine how much better they could have been with 'CJ' launching off half-back more often? The dashing defender never really got a run at it in 2023 with Achilles and groin issues lingering throughout the campaign. Jiath wasn't sighted after round nine, but memories of his impact as a rebounding backman in 2021-22 will have Hawks fans longing for his return.
Tom McDonald (8 games in 2023)
It hasn't been lost on Melbourne fans that, amid their sporadic forward-line struggles, the hard-running McDonald has played just 17 of a possible 49 games in the past two years. The past two times he's managed more than 20 games in a year, the Demons made a prelim (2018) and won the cup (2021). Granted, 'T-Mac' isn't the same athlete who booted a career-high 53 goals in 2018 but his importance to Melbourne's structure hasn't diminished. The 31-year-old can play a vital role as a foil to Jacob van Rooyen and Harrison Petty, while he remains a capable key defender if the Demons cop some injuries down back.
George Wardlaw (8 games in 2023)
Harry Sheezel rightfully stole the headlines for North in his debut season, but 2024 could be the year that Wardlaw explodes. Despite being hampered by injuries during the year, the 19-year-old wasn't fazed by the step up in class and showed off the ferocious, physical approach that had convinced the Kangas to draft him at Pick No.4 in 2022. Wardlaw played seven of his eight games during Alastair Clarkson's time away from the club in 2023, meaning he'll feel like a new recruit for the Roos' coach.
Mitch Georgiades (2 games in 2023)
He is still recovering from a serious knee injury, but the Power will be desperate get Georgiades back into its forward line at some stage in 2024. Having recommitted to the club by signing a four-year deal, Georgiades represents the future of Port's forward line alongside Todd Marshall and Ollie Lord. Still just 22 years old, he has enormous upside as the Power chase a return to finals in 2024.
Tom Lynch (4 games in 2023)
Josh Gibcus is one Tiger who'll feel like a new recruit in 2024 after not playing at all this year, but there's no doubt Lynch is the man Richmond fans are desperate to get back on the park. Even when the Tigers were at their best in 2023, their lack of cohesion going forward proved to be a stumbling block as Jack Riewoldt attempted to lead the line on his own. And with Riewoldt's retirement, getting Lynch back to full fitness will be priority No.1 for new coach Adem Yze.
Jack Hayes (1 game in 2023)
Having been restricted to just six senior games and only four at VFL level in two seasons, Hayes will be hoping his injury issues are finally behind him. Young guns Mitch Owens and Anthony Caminiti were impressive in stepping up this year to support Max King, but a fully fit Hayes could add an extra dimension to Ross Lyon's forward line. While still raw and largely untested, Hayes has shown glimpses of his ability at the highest level.
Sam Reid (0 games in 2023)
The versatile tall has been given a lifeline by the Swans, who have re-signed him as a rookie after he missed the entire 2023 season due to injury. No one can deny Reid's talent, but getting the luckless 31-year-old on the park will again be a major challenge in 2024. If he can get back to full fitness, his ability to take contested marks at both ends of the ground, kick useful goals and even provide ruck support should help the Swans surge into September.
Jeremy McGovern (9 games in 2023)
Will 2024 be the year McGovern's body allows him to get back to his very best? The four-time All-Australian has managed no more than 15 games in the past four seasons due to a string of injuries, so it's easy to forget just how crucial a player he can be. At his best, McGovern is in the top handful of defenders in the League. If he's able to get on top of his injury woes, he can give the struggling Eagles a whole new dynamic.
Sam Darcy (3 games in 2023)
Having made an instant impression late in 2022, expectation that Darcy could take the competition by storm this year were scuppered by a series of injuries, including a punctured lung. Still just 20 years old, the 205cm Darcy has already proven his ability to impact at both ends of the ground. If the Dogs can get him fit and firing in 2024, he could be an X-factor as they push to return to finals.