It’s been a long road back for Anthony Morabito since the day he heard the three dreaded letters: A.C.L. After an intense recovery period, he’s now ready to become a second-year player, again. Story: Costa Kastanis

Anthony Morabito was driving home at about 2pm on Friday 10 December, 2010, when he got the call from Fremantle Dockers club doctor Ken Withers.

“Kenny said I’d better come into the office and have a chat,” Morabito says. “I drew my conclusions from there.”

Earlier that day, Morabito had been out on the track for a pre-season training session. Taking part in a regulation handball drill, one simple change of direction changed everything.

“I felt something in my knee that I hadn’t felt before and I didn’t know what it was,” he says.

“I thought I may have just jarred it and it was going to be a two week injury at the most.

“I was pretty confident that I hadn’t done anything too major.”

What he had done was damage the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his left knee, which amounted to a full reconstruction and one year on the sidelines.

The 19-year-old, who had never been seriously injured before, was stunned that one little tweak could do so much damage.

“I’d heard that it doesn’t take much to do it but it never crossed my mind at the time that it happened,” he says.

A shattered Morabito didn’t know what to think when Dr Withers gave him the diagnosis.

“A lot of things went through my mind,” he says.

“After playing 23 games in my first year I had all the confidence I could do it again, and news like that brings you right back down to reality.”

Morabito had finished the 2010 season off strongly and felt like he was poised to take the next step in 2011.

“In 2010, I came in doing no pre-season, but by the end of the year I felt I had built up enough fitness to run out games better. So I set myself up for a big pre-season,” he says.

“I made big strides in my fitness levels and I thought that the only way would be up.”

After the operation on his knee, everyday things — getting in and out of a car and walking up stairs — suddenly presented a major challenge.

“I couldn’t really do any of that too comfortably,” he says. “For that first month I went back home to Harvey and had mum look after me.”

His PlayStation 3 and episodes of Prison Break helped him kill some time, but it was a book given to him by assistant coach Simon Lloyd that impacted Morabito the most.

“It was the Adam Ramanauskas biography,” Morabito says.

“That was an eye opener because you think you’ve got it bad with a knee injury, and he fought cancer.

“That was pretty inspirational.”

There was no end of support for Morabito from his teammates, both past and current ones.

“I got a call from Des Headland,” Morabito says.

“He had a knee issue throughout his career, and told me I still have plenty of time to get over it.

“Paul Hasleby contacted me, too. He’d been through it himself and he was pretty positive about the situation.”

If any of his teammates were qualified to offer support to Morabito, it was Tim Ruffles, who had undergone two knee reconstructions in two seasons, on different knees.

“He was the first one to see me in hospital after the surgery,” Morabito says.

“Being in rehab with Timmy and seeing how he had gone about it was great.
“I looked to him for a lot of inspiration.”

Morabito also gained confidence from some established stars of the competition that had made successful comebacks from knee injuries.

“I said to myself ‘they came back from it so why can’t I?’.”

St Kilda’s Brendon Goddard, who injured an ACL in 2007 which required a reconstruction, was one player that Morabito had particular admiration for.

“It was heartening to see a guy like Brendon Goddard, who has done a similar injury at a similar age to me, come back and play the way he has played over the past few years,” he says.

“It’s a fair achievement.”

2011 has been all about rehab for Morabito, who says his knee is feeling stronger and more flexible by the day.

“I’ve had lots of time to concentrate on power lifting — general dead lifts and back squats,” he says.

“I was pretty poor at both of those before I did my knee.

“This year I’m lifting a lot more than I was when I first arrived at the club. That’s shown that I still have the strength in my legs to get back out there.”

Morabito believes his situation has helped him improve markedly in another area of his game — mental toughness.

“Watching the boys running out there, you do get a little bit jealous,” he says.

“I can’t wait for next year. I have the motivation in me to know I never want to be back in that position in rehab again.”

Morabito is close to resuming full-scale training, aiming to rejoin his teammates within the first month of pre-season — give or take a week or two.

And he’s set his sights on playing his first match during next year’s NAB Cup campaign.

But the number four pick from the 2009 AFL Draft is approaching 2012 a little differently.

“I’ll be a third-year player, but I definitely feel like next year is my second year of AFL,” he says.

When he does pull on the purple jumper again to run out for an AFL game, Morabito will be savouring every moment.

“It’ll be like I’m a little kid and I’ve woken up for the first time to go to footy again,” he says.

“I can’t wait for that feeling of preparing for a game and running out there in front of the crowd.

“It’s something I probably took for granted, but from now on I definitely won’t.”

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