Ryan Gardner describes playing in an AFL final in his home state as a "dream come true".
But it certainly wasn't an easy ride to get to that point.
The 24-year-old Circular Head product was a late inclusion into the Western Bulldogs team that went on to end Essendon's season on Sunday, playing a key role in a back line that only let through four goals.
His return came after teammate Zaine Cordy withdrew due to illness and was the Tasmanian's first game at the level since round 15, when he suffered his second shoulder injury for the season.
Gardner on Wednesday said his outing in the Launceston rain [his first as an AFL player in Tasmania] had justified his determination to carry on this season despite significant injury hurdles, as the appeal of finals was not one he could ignore.
It also came after he missed out on a home state appearance in round 22 after he was not allowed in the state after visiting a Tier 2 exposure site in Melbourne.
"I was pretty shattered after initially being named as an emergency [for the final] as I really did want to play down here,'' Gardner said.
"Then to get the call up to play was a pretty crazy feeling, there was just so much relief and a bit of excitement.
"There was a fair bit of emotion from me before the game knowing I was able to run out in my home state and in front of family and friends, so it was a pretty surreal feeling."
Gardner said he found out at about 10am on the morning of the game that he was in, with the short notice actually helping his preparation.
"It was different as usually I do have a lot of nerves the night before,'' he said.
"For me I knew I was an emergency and that my chances of playing weren't that great, so I was able to have a good sleep and not think about it that much, but when I got the call up I was definitely ready to go.
"I am probably one of those people who can over think and over analyse the game coming up, so for me not thinking about it at all and just rolling into the game like that was beneficial."
In what was his first game at the venue since 2015 during his days with the Burnie Dockers, there was also a sense of pride for Gardner of being able to perform on the big stage after such a tough year personally.
"To be able to go out there a little bit underdone in a way because I haven't played too much footy and to perform the way I did was pleasing as I put in a lot of work to get myself back and in contention to play finals,'' said Gardner, who also played at the venue during his school days for Marist Regional College.
Gardner, who spent time on Bomber Aaron Francis, believed Sunday's win, and the contested nature of it, had his side back on track.
The Bulldogs will now face Brisbane at the Gabba on Saturday night chasing a preliminary final spot.
It was also Gardner's first win in a final after being part of the side that lost narrowly to St Kilda at the elimination final stage last year.
"It was incredible to win one especially on home soil and it is a memory that I will cherish for the rest of my life,'' he said.
He also understood there would likely be a selection squeeze coming with Cordy healthy again, and was content with the knowledge if he did lose his place for the clash with the Lions he had put in his best possible performance in the elimination final.
Gardner, who was born at Smithton, grew up at Woolnorth and played his junior footy at Redpa, is a supporter of Circular Head again having a presence in the NWFL.
A letter he wrote about the issue was distributed at a public meeting at Smithton in July.
"I had that dream of playing AFL football and I had a lot of guys around me who I thought were just as good as me, but weren't able to pursue that due to all the travel and everything that comes with being so remote in an area like that,'' he said,
"If we can get a team back in Smithton now that you can drafted from that league and you can play at Smithton without having to move up the Coast to play it would be massive as we need that pathway."
Gardner was one of two Tasmanians who featured in UTAS Stadium's elimination finals. Fellow former Burnie Docker in Robbie Fox was Sydney's activated medical sub on Saturday.
Gardner and the Western Bulldogs are still in Launceston ahead of flying to Brisbane later in the week.
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