Michael Barlow would be excused for seeing Sunday’s game against Melbourne as a massive triumph.

Twelve months on from horrifically breaking his leg in Perth, Barlow finally set foot on an AFL field again.

There were setbacks along the way and some external doubts that he would play senior football again after such an impressive 13 games in his debut season.

So to not only return, but to be his team’s highest possession winner in his first game back, is nothing short of a monumental achievement.

But the statistics showing that he did eventually get to his 14th match and that he got 25 touches in it were not occupying Barlow’s thoughts in the aftermath of Sunday’s match against the Demons.

It was the fact his team that lost by 89 points that was foremost in his mind.

“There’s no mixed emotions at all. It was pretty devastating what went on today. It was really deflating. It was one of the worst feelings I’ve had in football,” Barlow said.

“It was a tough day at the office for us, but it is going to be a test of our character how we can bounce back from this.”

It is testament to the esteem in which Fremantle holds Barlow that he was started on the ground and played most of the match on the field in his first AFL game in a year.

Coach Mark Harvey may have had no other option after Antoni Grover and Ryan Crowley went down with injury but that didn’t affect the plans for the man who was famously recruited from VFL club Werribee.

“I was in to play a full game. I’m 100 per cent fit so the body is not too bad, just the normal wear and tear after a footy game,” he said.

The 23-year-old said he did not worry about how he would handle his first game since the injury, instead going in with the mindset of using the day as a celebration of his hard work in getting back.

“I’m a pretty strong-minded kind of person so the rehab has been fantastic. It has been a long rehab so I focused on a theme today. I’ve done 12 months of work so I wanted to go out there and enjoy the moment,” he said.

“The body held up really well. I found out quickly Melbourne had a few quick players, but there were no doubts. I played the full WAFL game last week and that was pretty important for me, to get that run under the belt, pull up OK from that and move forward.”

But don’t think for a minute that Barlow was content with his game.

“I always can improve and Harvs is always on to us that there is always something you can improve on from top to bottom,” he said.

“For me personally, my ball use was very poor today. I found a little bit of it but our turnovers killed us and I was one of the main contributors today. It’s a pretty sombre kind of feeling for me.”

The heavy defeat sees Fremantle firmly in the logjam of teams in the middle of the ladder.

A finals chance is there for the taking, and the man who watched on as a spectator for Fremantle’s 2010 finals series wants it more than most.

“Watching last year in the finals when we won that one against Hawthorn, it was a euphoric atmosphere,” Barlow said.

“That’s why we play footy, to succeed, and now that I’m in a professional environment, even moreso because of the interest, the following, the fan base and us as professional athletes, we want to strive to be the best,” he said.

“That is something that I personally really want to be involved in this year. Efforts like today aren’t going to help us but we’re a pretty strong-minded unit.”

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