Family and mates knew Michael Barlow’s comeback was never in doubt
Those who know Michael Barlow best, knew his return would come.
The AFL’s most talked about 13-gamer will step on to the MCG for the first time in Fremantle colours, returning to the competition almost a year after the shocking injury that ended his dream debut.
Barlow built a remarkable first-season average of 27.8 disposals and kicked 15 goals before a collision with teammate Rhys Palmer last July snapped his left tibia and fibula.
Sickening images were beamed around the country as Barlow was carried down the race and questions were posed as to whether he could return with the same ability – if he returned at all.
But for those who knew the boy from Shepparton, such speculation was pointless.
“He coped with it exceptionally well, his basic personality is equipped to deal with things like that,” Barlow’s dad, Herb, said.
“He lives the moment, he really achieved more than he ever thought he’d achieve last year and, in a way, he was content in the fact that he’s actually done it and there’s probably less pressure on him now.”
Mother Jenny will join Herb in the MCG stands today, with the away game for the Dockers giving the parents the luxury they did not have when their son was injured at Subiaco Oval last year.
“Maisie, our only girl, plays netball and we were down at Shepparton, about an hour south of here (Cobram) watching her play,” Herb said. “We just taped the game.
“The two older boys (who were) in Perth, they were ringing, and I just said to Jenny not to answer it because we’ll go home and watch the football and they were probably calling to let us know how the team went.
“Jenny had a message when we got home from a friend down in Portland, Warrnambool, saying they were thinking of us.
“At that time we thought we better start answering the phone.”
The brothers in the Subiaco stands were Herb Jr and Dom, who were there with long-time family friend Cameron Hall after the trio made the trip to support their brother and mate.
“That was gut-wrenching to see that,” Hall said.
“We weren’t quite sure what happened, then a mate from back in Shep rang me and told me he’d broken his leg.
“They showed the replay about 10 minutes later and it wasn’t good at all.
“I was sitting with Dom and Herb (Jr) when it happened and they were distraught, they didn’t know what to do.”
Hall made the trip to Melbourne for today’s game with Barlow’s brother Declan, joining an entourage of family and friends at the MCG.
Even the Shepparton United under-14s will be there after the coach bought tickets for the team at the start of the year, proudly predicting the match would be Barlow’s comeback game.
“He’ll want to play good for everyone going down and I reckon it’ll be a bit of a boost for him to know there’s so many people going to support him,” Hall said.
“He’s always been optimistic that he was going to come back.
“He’ll be straight back into it, maybe at the end of the game he’ll be a bit tired.
“I just know his personality, he never gives up, so it should prove to everyone that he’s back to his best.”
Barlow’s return comes after 352 days in recovery and rehabilitation, which included only 1 1/2 games of football in a layoff Herb admitted hit his son hard “at the start of the season when the penny dropped that he wasn’t going to be ready for Round 1”.
But the 23-year-old’s comeback has been made possible by a work ethic stemming from having to earn every minute in his career, copping knocks at all levels before the Dockers picked him up at No.8 in the 2010 rookie draft.
He was hurt when dropped from the Goulburn Valley under-15s, broken when he was the last player cut from the Vic Country 2007 squad and shattered when he was overlooked in two consecutive AFL national drafts.
But can he be as good as he was before the injury?
“There’s no doubt in my mind that I could get back playing at that level,” Barlow said.
“That injury that I went through, it’s something that I’ll never see again, hopefully.
“If you go out with the mindset that it’s going to happen (again), or worrying where your leg’s going to land … you’re really behind the the eight-ball from the start and you’re not going to give yourself the best chance.”