Tom Curran has not given up hope of reviving his AFL career despite a horror run of foot injuries that resulted in him being delisted by North Melbourne two weeks ago.
Curran's three years at Arden Street were ravaged by recurring right navicular stress fractures, with the key forward undergoing three operations in little more than a year.
But after making little significant progress in his rehabilitation from his most recent surgery, Curran accepted medical advice midway through the 2014 season that he give his foot a year's rest from all forms of running.
The 21-year-old son of two-time Hawthorn premiership player Peter Curran is a realist and told AFL.com.au he appreciates his foot is unlikely to recover sufficiently for him to resume his AFL career.
But after managing just six senior VFL games and three VFL development league games in his three seasons with the Roos, Curran will continue his rehabilitation with North's support next year and refuses to rule out an AFL return.
"Stranger things have happened in medicine, I would have thought," Curran said.
"There's a lot of cartilage damage in the foot and it will take a big sort of effort for it to heal.
"I'm a realist and know (returning to the AFL) is a very slim chance, but it's not one that I'm going to give up on."
Curran's right foot never gave him a chance to make a fist of his career at Arden Street.
When he arrived at North via pick No.40 at the 2011 National Draft he was in a moon boot, having been diagnosed with a stress reaction in his navicular following his final game for the Oakleigh Chargers, the TAC Cup Grand Final loss to Sandringham Dragons.
The key forward was nursed through his first AFL pre-season, a cautious approach that seemed to pay off when he returned in late April 2012 with North Ballarat's development team and was soon promoted to play three senior VFL games.
But Curran was then diagnosed with a stress fracture in his navicular – in a different spot to the original stress reaction – and had a pin inserted in it during an operation in June that year.
Curran recovered in time to complete an impressive 2013 pre-season that saw him named as an emergency for the Roos during the NAB Cup. He then started the home and away season strongly with North Ballarat.
But after playing the opening three games of the VFL season, Curran broke down again.
This time, a new surgeon operated on his navicular, inserting a pin at a different angle to that used in Curran's first operation and bolstering it with a bone graft.
Just 12 weeks later, in August 2013, scans showed that Curran's foot wasn't healing as well as had been hoped and he underwent another bone graft, this one involving even more bone.
At the time, North medical services director Steve Saunders said the procedure involved "the highest level of intervention you can do with this sort of thing".
Curran's recovery after the operation was frustratingly slow.
He eventually started running again, but kept pulling up sore. By the middle of the 2014 season – with a return to the field still seemingly a long way off – Curran decided it was time to take stock and booked an appointment with his surgeon.
Despite knowing how serious navicular injuries could be, Curran was not expecting to hear that his football career could be over.
"I guess I was a bit naïve to the fact this end-of-career type thing could happen so soon. It all came as a bit of a shock," he said.
Curran's surgeon told him his navicular was healing "not too badly", but that his past surgeries had caused a lot of cartilage damage around the bone and his ankle joint.
"That was ultimately what stopped us," Curran said.
"Cartilage doesn't regrow, but with a year off and some time off the surgeon is hoping I will grow some fibrocartilage, which is a fatty tissue that acts like cartilage."
For someone who's been given such a grim prognosis at such a young age, Curran is remarkably philosophical.
He freely admits he is disappointed his body has let him down so badly. He freely admits he is disappointed he has been delisted.
But he takes solace knowing he did everything in his power to forge a successful career at Arden Street.
"In the end it wasn't enough, but so be it. It was something that was out of my control," Curran says.
"I'm not the first and I definitely won't be the last bloke to go through this sort of thing. That's kind of how I see it."
Curran is also looking forward to focusing on his life outside of football.
He is set to complete the final year of a business degree in 2015 and is planning to combine his studies with a part-time job.
He has also had offers to coach in local footy. That aside, he will have to direct his competitive instincts into his other great sporting passion, golf, while he will be limited to bike riding and cross-training as he tries to stay fit.
Curran is extremely grateful for North's unstinting support throughout his injury odyssey. Although he is no longer on North's list, he will have access to North's facilities and medical team next year as he continues his rehabilitation.
Having made so many close mates at Arden Street, Curran admits it will be hard not to be there when they report back to pre-season training and, even more so, when they run out at the start of next season.
But, make no mistake, he will be cheering them on – and not wasting any time feeling sorry for himself.
"Just to watch them all go about their business, and I guess try for a premiership next year, it will be a good 12 months to watch them," Curran says.
"I'll certainly be barracking for them and watching them with a close eye.
"It will be tough to see them go out there in some respects, but I'm a realistic person and these are the cards I was dealt so I've just got to move on."