I AM not sure what was worse, trying to hold back tears as my career looked all but finished, or listening as the world dissected my life and my troublesome foot. While I sat on my kitchen bench in early 1999 and listened to ex-players, James Hird fans and James Hird knockers on talkback radio, I felt like I was having an out-of-body experience.
Here were experts - some with medical degrees and most without - declaring I would never play again and that despite a Brownlow Medal, a premiership, a few best-and-fairests, at the tender age of 25 my career was not only finished but a disappointing waste of talent.
This was, in fact, as dark as it got and one day after breaking the navicular bone in my foot, I picked myself up, stopped feeling sorry for myself and realised that if I was to achieve my life's dream of captaining Essendon to a premiership then I had to be super motivated, ruthless, single-minded and, finally, patient.
I am sure Geelong's Matthew Egan is having similar thoughts.
Passed up by many clubs, Matthew has done it harder than any first-round draft pick.
He is now an All-Australian and a respected AFL player. Now the dedication and single-mindedness that got him there will need to rise to the surface again.
Long-term injuries are no fun. They make a footy club a lonely and boring place.
At the moment Egan would want no more than to experience the feeling of a group training session where the ball is zinging around and you and your mates are slapping each other on the back.
All he has is the comfort of the physio bench and the loneliness of the swimming pool or weights room.
The navicular bone is a very small but important bone.
It resides on the top inside of your foot, just below your ankle joint. It takes a great load of the weight that goes through your body when you stand, walk and more so when you run.
According to the doctors who treated me, it has one of the lowest rates of blood flowing through it of any of the body's bones.
These two issues - high load and lack of blood flow - make it an extraordinarily slow healer. Not good when you are an impatient footballer.
I broke my foot three times before I got it right. I think Matthew is up to two breaks. I have spoken to him in the past about his foot and was very disappointed to hear of this happening to him again.
The lesson I learnt is that time is the main healer for this bone.
Dedication, single-mindedness and a ruthless approach to your rehab are important, but patience is key.
I had a great team around me - my surgeon Julian Feller, club doctor Bruce Reid, Bruce Connor our physio and John Quinn, who ran my rehab program and acted as full-time psychologist.
In my opinion we all made mistakes along this process, not big ones but enough to stop the bone healing.
The way we got it right was that in every decision around running and load through my foot, we were conservative.
Three times we tried and twice we failed, it was devastating and gut-wrenching but ultimately it was this injury that gave me an appreciation of football that I did not have before.
Did Egan and his Geelong medical staff make a mistake by trying to get him back for last year's Grand Final?
Most would say yes, but in my opinion when the ultimate prize is so close you must try.
I also doubt that once he broke it, running around a few times before the GF is the reason he still can't run today.
To me that is history. Dwelling on the fact will not get his foot better.
Pro-active, methodical problem solving and a bit of luck is what is needed.
Egan will get better.
He has decided to wait until next year before trying again. This is smart.
Along the way he will have huge self doubt and will need a lot of support. Geelong has signed him until 2010; his coach is behind him and so are his teammates.
All I can say is good luck, mate, because once you get through this you will be a better player who appreciates the game more than most.
My money is on Matthew Egan as the 2009 All-Australian full-back, and when you finally get to stand on that victory dais on Grand Final day with a premiership medallion around your neck you will know that nobody earned it as much as you did.
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