Competition for spots is ramping up as the Western Bulldogs close in on the business end of the season.
But funnily enough, Riley Garcia wouldn’t want it any other way.
The 20-year-old has had his share of hard knocks the last couple of years.
Garcia injured his ACL in his draft year but found his way to the Bulldogs with pick 62 in 2019.
The West Australian spent the majority of 2020 in the rehab group, working back from that reconstruction. And in the last session before the Christmas break, suffered another knee setback that restricted his 2021 pre-season.
But Garcia persevered.
He earned a much-deserved AFL debut in round 11. Before a concussion injury saw him ruled out before quarter time.
Finally, over the past five weeks, Garcia has got his break.
The tough, competitive midfielder-forward has played five consecutive games and has shown the Bulldogs faithful he is more than capable at AFL level.
“The skills that I’ve learnt in rehab, overcoming those little setbacks, you just kind of have to wear it and that’s footy I guess,” Garcia told Channel 10 this week.
“It is what it is, sometimes.
“I believed that I could get back in the team (after the debut injury), so that’s what I did. I put my head down and thankfully ended up back in the team a few weeks later.
“I love the competition… there’s no doubt there’s competition for spots, but that only drives me internally and drives the standards around the club.”
Development manager Jamie Maddocks has worked closely with Garcia since he arrived at the club.
He praised the young gun for his ability to overcome adversity and continually striving to push to get the best out of himself.
“You don’t want people to go through injuries and that adversity, but sometimes it’s the making of the person,” Maddocks said.
“Riley’s one of those kids who just wants to get better and doesn’t look at the barriers in front of him, he just moves around them.
“He’s a player that’s shown a great ability to learn. He’s so coachable. If there’s something in his game that needs to get better, he’ll fix it up.
“The great thing has been seeing Riley get some continuity in his body. He’s doing every session, he’s playing multiple games together and at a high level with a lot of pressure acts, contact and physicality.”
With four weeks to go before the Bulldogs embark on a finals campaign, Garcia is establishing himself in the senior side.
But he won’t be thinking any further ahead than his next game.
“We’ve worked so hard to get to where we are at this point, so it’s just about finishing strong and carrying that momentum,” Garcia said.
“For me it’s week-to-week, playing my role and making sure everything I’m doing is putting the team in a better place.
“If I can focus week-to-week, the rest will just unfold.”