Paddy McCartin will take his most significant step towards an AFL return by playing for Sydney's reserves, with the key forward eyeing the mid-season draft as he seeks to move on from his concussion hell.
McCartin, who was recruited by St Kilda with the No.1 pick in the 2014 draft, played his final AFL game for the Saints almost 1000 days ago.
The 24-year-old suffered eight concussions before being delisted at the end of the 2019 season.
It has been an incredibly long road back in several senses; McCartin was on track to play at some level in 2020 but the COVID-19 pandemic intervened.
The Swans contemplated taking McCartin, whose younger brother Tom will be a key part of their defence this season, in last year's rookie draft.
McCartin told AAP he feels "lucky" that Sydney have offered a chance to resurrect a career that so many, including himself, feared was over.
"The last couple of years I've had to do a lot of things to get to this point. I'm looking forward to putting all that concussion stuff behind me, just enjoying footy," McCartin said.
"It's been a very long time since I've played.
"It was probably 18 months ago that I got the all clear from some doctors, that was when I thought I'd give it another crack.
"COVID pushed it back but I'm here now and so excited. Footy is something I've loved playing since being a little kid.
"Being closer to my brother is going to be really nice too. I'm loving Sydney - the weather, beaches. Everything feels a bit surreal."
McCartin, who opened up about being a "shell of a person" at the peak of his concussion struggles, is now feeling happy, healthy and hungry for a chance to play.
The Victorian, who has undertaken baseline concussion tests at the Swans, described last year's shock death of Shane Tuck and subsequent diagnosis of severe CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) as "terrible, sad and horrific".
Nonetheless, McCartin remains determined to play, noting he has taken advice from specialists.
The potent forward, who was renowned for his contested marks at St Kilda, is confident he will be ready for the start of a new second-tier competition featuring teams from NSW, Queensland and Victoria.
The mid-season draft, which has been locked in for June 2, looms as McCartin's most direct path back onto an AFL list.
"If you're playing reasonable footy and that mid-season draft comes around, hopefully I'll put my name up for that," he said.
"That's the aim."
For now, McCartin is keen to have a kick and spend quality time with his sibling.
"When I got drafted, Tom was 13 or 14 and I sort of missed him growing up," he said.
"Even the last three years, I really haven't seen him too much.
"To train with him, see him all the time - that was definitely a big driving factor in moving up."
Australian Associated Press