The dream of a return to the AFL is alive for Fremantle’s Anthony Morabito if he wants it enough, according to a former WA teenage sensation whose career was ruined by injury.
Lee Walker was rated a better talent than West Coast great Glen Jakovich as a junior, but was restricted to 16 AFL games after four knee reconstructions.
Morabito, 21, is facing another gruelling recovery period after damaging the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee for the third time at training on Wednesday.
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He is expected to meet the club and his manager Colin Young next week to decide his treatment.
But regardless of his physical options, the 2009 No.4 draft pick will face a significant mental battle to return to anywhere near his best.
Walker, who had knee reconstructions at 15 and 16, is well aware of the challenges for Morabito. Former West Coast and Collingwood player Walker was considered a better talent than Eagles legend Glen Jakovich before consecutive knee reconstructions at 15 and 16 years old curbed his development.
He was drafted by the Eagles in 1992, but was also dogged by shoulder and groin problems and was traded to Collingwood at the end of 1994 without playing a game.
Another two knee recon- structions forced him into retirement in 1999 after 16 games.
Having come back from a similar injury four times, Walker said Morabito will face his sternest test in the coming months.
“There’s no doubt he can come back from it, but right now the world is a hard place to be in,” Walker said.
“Mentally, the hardest part of a knee reco is the first four or five months when you feel like the leg’s not actually yours.
“With time you start to get your muscles back to the level you want them at, then you start the running process and it still actually doesn’t feel like your leg.
“Then all of a sudden something clicks and you start getting stuck right into things again.
“There may be a few hiccups here and there but you know when you’re ready to go.”
Morabito played eight games for Peel Thunder last year after his first second reconstruction, running freely and showing faith in his body in contested situations.
Walker, who worked as a development coach at the Dockers after retiring, said it was important Morabito retained belief in his ability.
“There’s nothing more frustrating than sitting out of a game that you know you can play and sitting on the sidelines when you know you can match it with the guys who are out there,” Walker said. “From a mindset point of view, you can come back from anything and I’m sure he will be given every opportunity to come back again — if that’s what he decides he wants to do.
“In good time he will make a decision on whether he feels up to going through (the recovery) again and playing again.
“I just hope he gets the opportunity again to pull the Fremantle jumper on because I know what it means to play at that level.”
Former Docker Luke Webster, now a development coach at Carlton and coach of their VFL affiliate Northern Blues, also had four knee reconstructions in his career, three of them before his 21st birthday.
After working with Morabito during his first year at the club, Webster says he has no doubt the midfielder can return to the top flight.
“He’s still only young,” Webster said.
“I did my third one in 2002 and my last one in 2008, so there’s no reason why, if he applies himself like he has, that he can’t overcome this.
“He comes from a strong family, his mum and dad have instilled some good values in him and I think he should be fine.
“There are going to be some dark times for him, but I’ve got full confidence he’ll get back bigger and better and have a good crack at it.”
Morabito’s State under-18s coach Andrew Lockyer said it would be a loss to football fans if the Peel product’s talent was never realised in the AFL.
“You see plenty of kids with talent but he was a kid with talent and drive,” Lockyer said.
“First and foremost, I hope he gets well for his own personal wellbeing, but secondly, I hope he gets back and plays some footy.
“From what I saw of him, he was going to be outstanding, and he was outstanding in his first year (of AFL).
“The things he could do, especially in the under-18s, if he could reproduce that he was going to be a standout player, a sensational player.”
Dockers defender Luke McPharlin said Morabito’s latest setback had “rippled through the club” but it was important to move on.
“It’s certainly impacted us, no question,” McPharlin said.
“We all think very highly of Anthony. He’s a tremendous young man and we are all certainly aware of his enormous football talent.
“But unfortunately it’s business as usual and we need to continue in our preparation for what will hopefully be an exciting year for us, albeit being respectful of Anthony and his situation.
“We made a point of it this morning that we need to get ourselves up and continue and forge ahead.”
McPharlin said Morabito had mostly been left alone to come to terms with his latest injury setback.
“He didn’t want to be inundated with calls and the rest of it,” McPharlin said.
“I’ve sent him a text and I think most guys have sent him a text to let him know that we are thinking of him.
“I think a couple of his closer friends at the club have made contact with him directly.
“At this point in time, out of respect for what he is going through, a bit of space is what is wanted and we are really respectful of that.”