Brisbane coach Michael Voss says there is no doubt that Fremantle midfielder Michael Barlow will return to his best form after recovering from the broken leg that has sidelined him for the past 11 months.

Barlow will make his comeback on Saturday when he plays half a reserves game for Peel. He hopes to play league football the following week and then begin pushing for an AFL return.

Voss, former Melbourne captain Garry Lyon, ex-Richmond and Western Bulldogs star Nathan Brown and current Tigers captain Chris Newman all played a part in Barlow’s recovery. The quartet all suffered badly broken legs and provided advice and moral support following the Docker’s sickening injury.

Voss broke his leg in round 13, 1998 and returned through Queensland’s State league in round one, 1999. The triple premiership captain quickly reminded AFL fans of his talent and earned All-Australian selection at the end of that year.

The Brownlow medallist said Barlow had done everything possible to return as a quality player.

“I’m sure he’ll get back to the level,” Voss said. “He’ll be fine.”

“He’s a professional and he’s really competitive. He just has to realise that the expectations he places on himself straight away should be different to what they were because they have to be two different things.

“But if he can trust the process, and take each challenge as it comes, there’s no reason why he shouldn’t get back to his best.

“The main thing I told him when we were talking at the Brownlow Medal was to respect the injury because it’s a major one. Sometimes you feel the need to push hard but you can’t with this one. Time is the only thing that can heal it.”

Barlow had an incredible debut season after being upgraded as a mature-aged rookie. He averaged 28 disposals and one goal per game, collected 12 Brownlow Medal votes and finished seventh in the best and fairest.

Barlow hasn’t set a timeline for his return to the AFL. He hopes to play league football for Peel next week but a WAFL general bye is then followed by Peel’s bye, so he’s likely to spend several weeks building form before an AFL return.

Defender Roger Hayden is also pushing to return from a long-term foot injury this week. His WAFL club South Fremantle plays East Fremantle on Monday.

Barlow said he couldn’t wait to get back onto a football field and would have played for “the Kalgoorlie Cats reserves” if the club asked him to.

A relaxed Barlow said he was confident that he’d recover from the injury and revealed he felt worse watching other people get hurt than revisiting his collision with Rhys Palmer. Barlow said he wouldn’t hesitate to attack contests this week.

“I’m so excited to play footy. It’s a contact game and that’s what comes with it,” Barlow said. “I’ve never worried about that kind of stuff before. If you start worrying about those kinds of possibilities, it’s just going to put you behind the eight ball from the start.

“It’s going to be 11 months for me. The physios and sports science guys have been adamant that once we’re back up and going it’s just a matter of full steam ahead.

“I’m happy that it’s all done and dusted nearly. I’m really excited.”
Barlow’s return to playing is a welcome boost for Fremantle. The Dockers received more good news yesterday when Hayden Ballantyne and Palmer were deemed to have no case to answer for incidents in the loss to St Kilda.

But Michael Walters will face the WAFL Tribunal tonight after being charged with striking Claremont’s Ian Richardson.

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