FOR Andrew Krakouer, the six months he spent sidelined this year was a much easier rehabilitation than the 16 months he spent without his freedom.
"To be through what I've been through, doing my knee was probably a drop in the ocean, mate," Krakouer said this week. "In saying that, through my experiences, doing my knee was a bad thing, but at the end of the day it wasn't the end of the world."
In this rehab, Krakouer still had his family, teammates and friends around him. "At least I still had family there and, you know, you have your freedom."
Krakouer's remarkable journey takes him to the MCG tonight when 80,000 or more will see the second game of the second improbable resurrection of his career. What he has been through is beyond the usual footballer's lot.
The son of North Melbourne champion Jimmy Krakouer, Andrew's 102-game career with Richmond was halted by a 16-month stint in a West Australian prison following an assault conviction in 2008.
He was at Powerball odds to make it back, yet he did his astonishing performances for Swan Districts in 2010 earning him a place at Collingwood, where he booted 35 goals, three of them in the first half of last year's grand final defeat.
This year, he was given up to a month's leave by Collingwood to deal with personal issues. When he returned he tore the anterior cruciate in his right knee on February 25 in a VFL practice match against Geelong.
The injury, normally season-ending, came barely a fortnight after his compassionate leave. Krakouer, who is not yet contracted for next year, said he then contemplated retirement.
"I reckon there were a few times I thought about retiring and giving it away and, you know, at my age, I was 29 and thinking ... I'm out of contract and to get back is a very, very long road and a hard road," he said.
"So yeah, actually retirement, sort of pulling the pin, came into my mind quite a bit in early stages, but that was when I was at home and wasn't required to come into training. But once I got back into training and things like that, my mind sort of shifted."
He didn't believe he would play again this year, much less in a final. "I actually thought that was me done and dusted and, like I said, retirement and curtains on my career were emotions and things that flowed through my mind quite frequently."
Krakouer said his mind "wasn't in the best place" when he was hurt, following the off-field traumas that prompted his short sabbatical.
"I wasn't in the happiest place. There's a lot of emotions and a lot of things that run through your mind when you've got a few little off-field issues going on, and then something like that happens ... first game of the year, you do your knee."
Krakouer's doubts were shared by everyone except his partner and mother. The knee "reco" usually takes nine to 12 months. His no-less-storied father, Jimmy, now working at a mine near Port Hedland, had two reconstructions himself and wasn't optimistic about an end-of-season return for his son.
"My partner, Barbara, and mum, Fiona, they said to me, 'I reckon you'll get back.' Being in the mindset I was, I didn't really read into it too much and thought they were just sort of being nice because they're supposed to be. Dad did two knees himself, so he wasn't quite sure. He knew how hard it was to come back."
Krakouer's recovery, while swift, was not as fast as those of players who had the contentious LARS operation, which his surgeon, Julian Feller, advised against. Krakouer worried that if he didn't get back this year, he might not play AFL again.
"That was one of the main reasons why I stuck my head down and got into this year to try to get back. It would have made it very difficult if I spent the whole year out and was coming out of contract, and that was sort of out of my control. So the only thing I could control was the effort I put into my rehab."
Collingwood's decision to bring back Krakouer before the finals followed four matches in the twos, where his renowned lateral movement and one-touch skills were intact. It was the same Andy Krakouer. But the player who resumed against Essendon had changed numbers, reverting back to No. 7 after beginning the season with his father's No. 3.
"It was the first time I wore No. 3. I wore it and I did my knee and I thought, 'Bugger that, I'm going back to No. 7."' Krakouer lowers his voice when asked about perceptions. The only ones that counted, he said, were of those close to him and the club.
"When people think of Andy Krakouer, they think, you know, straightaway, jail ... Jimmy's son, oh yeah, that's the bloke who went to jail, or some people might think that's the bloke who got out of a bit of adversity in his life and showed a bit of resilience or whatever."
He is interested in mentoring post-football. "I've played AFL footy, I made a mistake and it got taken away from me ... it's hard enough to get one [chance at] playing AFL footy, let alone two, especially after sort of what happened in my life. So yeah, absolutely, I think I'll be able to offer a fair bit."