Nathan Laracy has seen his fair share of adversity in his time at Werribee.
Despite once holding the mantle of his side’s number-one lockdown defender, the 28-year-old veteran has managed just 32 VFL games in his nine years at Avalon Airport Oval.
Injuries and tight competition for spots through Werribee's alignment with North Melbourne limited his opportunities in his early days, and a serious posterior cruciate ligament injury suffered in round one of the 2016 season has restricted him in the time since to just seven Development League games, among them a milestone 100th club game that proved a rare cause for celebration over the past two and a half years.
The story of Werribee’s longest-serving current player is one of remarkable persistence, and it is a tale that is set to finally get the happy ending it deserves.
Against the Box Hill Hawks on Saturday, 854 days after his last game of VFL football, Nathan Laracy will again don the “big W” and take to his home turf as part of the Werribee line-up.
Not surprisingly, the overwhelming feeling for the boy from Barnawartha is one of excitement.
“I’m just really looking forward to getting back into the jumper because it’s been a while,” Laracy says.
“Watching the boys play this year, it’s been a bit of an up-and-down year, but I’m just really looking forward to finally getting another crack at it and finishing off this season with Werribee.”
Having undergone surgery in the off-season to finally bring the PCL issues that had plagued his 2016 and 2017 campaigns under control, Laracy admits he had been hoping for an earlier return to the VFL ranks in Werribee’s first season as a standalone outfit in 19 years.
His extended absence from state-league football has resulted in a longer comeback trail than anticipated and required a carefully managed approach, but the chance to return to play with Ovens & Murray Football League side Myrtleford – where he has regularly featured among the standout players – as part of that process has helped soften the blow.
“The fact my knee has been feeling all right [has made it easier],” Laracy says.
“I’ve still played 10 games this year. Over the past three years, I’ve only played seven [Werribee] games in total, so I’ve been pretty happy with the way I’ve been going. It’s just that my body hasn’t really held up to play at this level.”
“But I’ve finally got it to a stage where I can compete, so I’m really just looking forward to getting out there and having a crack.”
Laracy’s return on Saturday will cap off an emotional few days for the club, with senior coach John Lamont having announced during the week that he will step away from the post he has occupied for the last five years at the end of the season.
Laracy is determined for his coach’s sake as much as his own to produce a strong showing and repay the faith that has been shown in him.
“He’s been a massive part of my VFL career,” he says of Lamont.
“I think I’d only played one or two senior games and then John came to the club, so I’ve played 30 senior games with him at the helm, and I can’t thank him enough.
“As a playing group, we need to unite and finish off the season the way he deserves.”
Lamont says the knowledge he will have the chance to again lead Laracy on game day at least once more is a comforting thought amid a challenging time.
“It is rewarding for me at a personal level,” says Lamont.
“There’s still room for sentiment at clubs, and we decided as a club that there’s still a place for a long-serving player who’s spent nine seasons at our club and played over 100 club games to get the opportunity to finish off in the seniors.
“A lot of people, probably most young footballers, would have taken the path of least resistance and just pulled the pin; but ‘Lara’, to his credit, has really hung in there, so this is a great reward for him.
“The blokes are rapt that he’s back in the team, and I’m really confident he’ll have a good game.
“It’s a real pity that he’s been hurt in these latter few years, but that’s all history now.”
Laracy acknowledges his age and the nature of what he has endured means there is uncertainty around his future at Werribee beyond the end of this year as well.
But whatever happens post season, he is adamant that the opportunity he has been afforded this weekend will make the pain and struggle of the last three years worthwhile.
“I’ve worked my butt off to try to get back, and some things just don’t go to plan, but I’m finally there,” he says.
“I’ve got my body to a level where I can compete, so I’m just really looking forward to pulling the jumper back on.
“It’s been a while, so I can’t wait.”
Laracy and the rest of the Werribee team take on the Box Hill Hawks for the beyondblue Cup at 1pm on Saturday at Avalon Airport Oval.