Aaron Black says his performance in last year's preliminary final loss to the Sydney Swans was probably the worst of his career.
As North Melbourne was dealt a 71-point September reality check, Black had just two possessions – one of which was a clanger – and was substituted from the match in the third quarter, by which time the rampant Swans had all but booked a Grand Final spot.
For Black, it was the nadir of a disappointing season.
The 192cm forward played every game last year but kicked just 26 goals in 25 games, down from 33 goals in 18 games in his breakthrough 2013 season.
In fairness, he carried a right shoulder injury for most of 2014, one that required post-season surgery.
And in the first four days leading up to the preliminary final Black could barely get out of bed.
The West Australian's problems began when he ran out to play Geelong in the second semi-final.
Ducking down to find a clear path through the Roos' banner, he felt his back seize.
Black was able to get through the game after some boundary line treatment and a few painkillers, but next morning he could barely move.
It was not until the day before the Roos' Friday night clash with the Swans that he felt confident he would be fit to play.
For much of the previous four days he had been lying flat on his back, unable to bend over let alone train.
It was hardly the ideal preparation for the biggest game of his career, but Black told AFL.com.au it was no excuse for his "shocking" performance.
"It was probably the worst game of my career," Black said at Werribee's Mercy Hospital on Thursday.
"I didn't train at all in the lead-up to the prelim, but I was right to go by Thursday and I had a half-decent game the week before against Geelong, so I was actually feeling pretty confident.
"The lead-up to the game was pretty frustrating, but there were no excuses really. I just played shocking that game."
Black downplayed the impact his shoulder injury had on his form last season, saying it had affected him mentally more than physically.
"It only hampers you the tiniest bit (physically) but I guess that little bit does mean you lose confidence in yourself," Black said.
"Whereas I might have been getting to balls and marking them the previous year, last year I couldn't get my arm up as much at times, I dropped some marks I should have taken and I let it affect me too much.
"The biggest thing with the shoulder was just that I couldn't do weights properly, so I lost a couple of kilos during the year and my strength dropped away and my marking just wasn't as good as 2013.
"It was frustrating."
As much as Black's 2014 season was a letdown, just six days before he flopped against the Swans he could have been the hero against Geelong.
After Cats forward Josh Walker kicked the opening goal of the final term to cut North's lead to 18 points, Black had the Roos' next three scoring shots.
In a seven-minute burst, he burned off Cats defender Mitch Brown to take a diving mark on the lead; clunked an overhead mark on the Roos' goalline as Cats talls Tom Lonergan and Mark Blicavs tried to spoil him; and roved the crumbs of a long Sam Gibson inside 50, bustling past Lonergan to snap at goal on his left foot.
Unfortunately, Black's shots at goal all missed – two of them narrowly – and it occurred to him after the match that if North had not hung on to defeat the fast-finishing Cats he would have been the villain.
Nonetheless, Black's burst showcased his rare mix of speed, agility and height, and hinted that his contested marking could become a bigger weapon.
It also underlined why a fully fit Black should still command a spot in his club’s best 22 this season even though North is overflowing with key forwards since the emergence of Ben Brown last year and the off-season acquisition of former Blue Jarrad Waite.
Where Drew Petrie and Waite are strong contested marks who can play as deep aerial targets, and Brown, 200cm, is developing along similar lines, Black can play as a lead-up forward, a ground-level opportunist or drift close to goal when the right match-up presents.
Asked his immediate reaction when he heard North had signed Waite as a free agent, Black said simply: "I liked it."
"Waitey will take the pressure off Drewy, Browny and myself, but Drew, Browny and myself will take pressure off him as well.
"I think we will all complement each other well."
Black says his shoulder now feels stronger than ever, but his rehabilitation meant he did return to North's main training group until four weeks ago, while he will finally resume full contact work on Monday.
Black had been hoping to make the weights room his second home this summer in a bid to improve his strength in one-on-one marking contests, but he was only able to start upper-body weights again six weeks ago.
The 24-year-old hopes he can make up for lost time in the gym over the next two or three months, and has already dramatically improved his endurance after completing a full pre-season of running.
Black has also worked hard to improve his goalkicking this summer. Unhappy with his 26.23 return last year, he has tweaked his run-up to make it more fluent and says he is feeling more confident with his set shots.
It's all part of the forward's determination to put 2014 behind him.
"I know that last year as a whole was pretty average, so I just want to make amends for that this season," he says.