Fremantle midfielder Michael Barlow is unlikely to get back to the level of football that made him a revelation this season until at least 2012 after breaking his leg against Port Adelaide, claims leading sports doctor Peter Larkins.

The 22-year-old had surgery yesterday after breaking both the fibula and tibia in his left leg in a collision with teammate Rhys Palmer during Saturday afternoon’s 57-point victory at Subiaco Oval.

The West Australian understands that surgeons have described the breaks as “clean” – a positive sign for Barlow and the Dockers, who are still hopeful he will be ready to complete most of the 2011 pre-season.

The graphic final-term incident in which Palmer slid into the legs of Barlow has tragically cut short a fairytale debut season.

Barlow had averaged 28 disposals a game and kicked 15 goals to be sitting second in Brownlow Medal betting.

Larkins predicted the talented midfielder would take two years to fully recover.

“I’d expect if it goes well with surgery and the rehabilitation that he’ll play footy next year, but I don’t think we’ll see him next year at the level of performance that we have seen over the last three months,” Larkins said.

“It may be the season after that we see him back with his full running ability or confidence, particularly as a midfielder.”

Larkins compared the injury to those experienced by former Richmond forward Nathan Brown and Brisbane defender Matt Maguire.

Brown returned in round one 2006 after his injury the previous year, but struggled with ongoing problems. He never again managed more than 18 games in a season and retired at the end of 2009.

Maguire broke his leg while playing for St Kilda in 2006 and complications with ongoing foot problems have restricted him to just 24 games since.

Larkins said soft-tissue damage in both cases had affected the pair’s comebacks.

“It probably takes two to three months for the bone to heal, but the muscle damage is unknown and that’s the thing that really slows down a running athlete,” he said.

The successful return of Brownlow medallist Michael Voss and Richmond captain Chris Newman provided hope for Barlow, Larkins said.

Voss shattered his leg against Fremantle at Subiaco Oval in 1998 but went on to captain Brisbane to three premierships.

Brown told Channel 9’s The Sunday Footy Show that he would advise Barlow not to rush his recovery.

“I tried to rush it and get back for round one the next year and had further complications,” he said. “It probably wasn’t until 2 1/2 years later in 2008 where I got the best out of it.”

Barlow’s mother Jenny flew to Perth yesterday and arrived just before her son had surgery. She said he was in shock, but added: “He’s looking at the positives.”

Fremantle defender Antoni Grover (hamstring) is expected to miss up to four weeks while Nat Fyfe (concussion) is in doubt for Saturday’s match against Richmond at Etihad Stadium.

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