Four Knee Operations, One Dream: Daniel Menzel - The Inspiring Comeback Cat

04/09/2015 7:11 PM AEST | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST

Daniel Menzel had dreamt of being an AFL player since he was 10 years old. By the age of 18 he was considered a football prodigy. Drafted by the Geelong Football club in 2009, his future seemed bright.

By September 2011 he had played 20 AFL games, but by the end of his 21st game he was in the hands of the doctors and being told he would need a knee reconstruction.

The four years that followed have been a testament to the power of pursuing a dream. By 2015, Menzel would have had to endure the pain and the recovery process of an incredible four knee reconstructions.


This long and arduous journey required incredible self-belief and mental strength from such a young man but Menzel said that was what he was most proud of.

“I’ve learnt to work with different people but also to have other outlets that I can turn to and get positivity out of when my rehab isn’t going as well as I’d like," he told The Huffington Post Australia.

"Those sorts of things have been a massive help in keeping me positive.”

The ability to keep bouncing back after repeated disappointment is something Menzel has put down to his continuing love of the game.

“The love for the game is a massive one. You still train every single day at the footy club -- I mean it doesn’t feel like you’re a part of it the majority of the time because you’re not training with the boys -- but you do have that drive to get back out there and play," he said.

"You never want to give up and it’s your dream to become an AFL player.”

Despite this determination, Menzel eventually faced some realities and broadened his thinking beyond football to other possibilities in life.

While he was always determined he’d get back to AFL, he realised that even for after a footy career, he needed to have other things in his life. He did some media work, studied and got great pleasure from coaching junior football.

“I learnt to have other outlets and not put all my eggs in one basket," he said.

"I always pictured coming back and never did I once think that I wouldn’t make it back, but I did learn that if I can do other things … (I will) have some pretty important things in my life I can turn to and get some positivity out of.”

The impressive thing about Menzel, still a young man in his 20s, is that he never thought of tossing in the towel. Over the past week he said he had been overwhelmed by support.

“When you read those messages, they’re so humbling it doesn’t seem right and when I read them, it makes me think there’s no way that I can ever quit because I’ve just had so many people supporting me and quitting, I feel, wouldn’t be fair to those who have put so much into me, so it’s nice that I’ll be able to repay them in some way," he said.

The future looks bright for Menzel at Geelong but it is also a bit surreal. For the first time in nine years, Geelong will not be playing in the finals series and quite a number of the players, with whom Menzel began his career, are retiring or moving on.

Before last week, Menzel's previous game with these men had been as the youngest in the team.

Now he is looking to a new season, where even at the age of just 24 years, he will be leading a new crop of young players into a new era at the club, despite having only played just over 20 games himself.

“I said to one of my coaches on the weekend it was my first game back in four years, but I was older than half my team mates and it felt like I did need to help them out," he told HuffPost Australia.

"But in saying that, these guys will develop and will come on: it means they will get better with another pre-season and it’s exciting … and we should be every chance to play finals and have a good season in 2016.”

The strength -- both mental and physical -- shown by Menzel is inspiring. And although everyone hopes that his playing future is long, the reality is that, with what his body has been through, his career now becomes one game at a time.

But each game in itself is a triumph.

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