"You grow as a person off the back of injuries...I always had the answer that drove me"
It seems strange to say it now, but Ciaran Sheehan's AFL journey couldn't have began any smoother.
14 VFL games in his first season, Sheehan was playing so well that Carlton fast-tracked him into their first team ahead of schedule.
He'd go onto play the last four games of the AFL season, earning the best first year player of the season award along the way.
The sky looked the limit for the Cork man then, only for injuries to interrupt his flight. So when Sheehan felt a pain in his pubic bone in early 2015, he would hardly have feared the worst but as is the fickle nature of top level sport, it would unfortunately mark the start of a nightmare run of injuries that would eventually end his AFL career.
Two hip surgeries in 2015. A stress fracture on his return in 2016 restricted him him again, before another hip operation consigned his 2016 to the sidelines. In 2017, Sheehan ruptured his lateral knee ligament before pulling his hamstring off the bone. In total, there were eight operations in four years Down Under - a freeway to excuses and self pity, but Sheehan doesn't look on it that way.
"When I look back on my own career, I had a lot of regrets too but at the same time, I probably had a lot of opportunities I didn't take as well," he says to Colm Parkinson on Thursday's GAA Hour Show.
"There is a list of injuries there, but you grow as a person off the back of injuries, I went through some dark times, everyone knows the drill when you're injured, but the biggest advice I would give is to always ask yourself the question 'why?'
"Why am I here, why am I doing it? I always had the answer that drove me, and that's what kept me going..."
"It was a disappointed from what I wanted to achieve, but it was an amazing experience from a personal point of view..."
Those injuries led to Sheehan being delisted in 2017 but with the thoughts of a Cork comeback in his head, he kept fit by playing Australian football at a semi-pro level.
"2017 was probably my best year, I had an uninterrupted pre-season and got a good run. I played a couple of games and wanted to continue playing, but yeah, I played at a semi-pro level for the two years that I was over there, but I always thought that if there was a sniff of playing with Cork again, I had to keep myself in shape for it..."
Sheehan opted to remain in Australia for 2018 and 2019, when he took up a role with the AFL Players' Association.
"Myself and my wife Amy - a lot of your time is consumed when you're a professional athlete but then when the contract finished up with Carlton, we said this was a great chance to experience Melbourne, Australia for what it is..."
He returned at the tail-end of last year and settled back into the Gaelic football straight away, helping his club Éire Óg win Cork's Premier Intermediate football championship.
"I came back at a good time, my club Éire Óg were in the latter stages of a county championship, so it was good to join up with those lads and ended up getting a county medal..."
Now, Sheehan is back in with Cork, scoring 1-5 in his first two league games back, against Offaly and Leitrim respectively.
"Even any of the lads out in Australia at the moment, you'd be thinking about playing with your clubs a lot of the time. Coming home and winning the county is what's going through your mind a lot of the time out there..."
"You grow up loving the game and then you're taken away from it but it still consumes your mind. From the minute I left Dublin, you're thinking about playing with Cork again, will it happen, won't it. I kept an eye on all the games on GAA GO..."
"It's still a lot different to when I left, the fluency, the way the ball is moving and that and it is a challenge for me. I just can't speak highly enough of the group of lads that's there with Cork at the moment though, the lads have been great. I've played with Mark Collins and Brian Hurley since I was very young, it's a case of the whole group helping me through. I'm learning a lot more from them than they would be from me.
All the same, Sheehan's progress will be pivotal to how Cork fare this year.