Following a tough injury run, Ararat Rats product and Carlton footballer Tom Williamson is on the road to recovery.
Williamson rejoined the main training group at Ikon Park on Wednesday after a "frustrating" pre-season.
The up-and-coming defender played 15 AFL games in his debut season in 2017, but back injuries hampered him throughout last year, failing to play a senior game for the Blues in 2018.
Back issues continued to plague the 20-year-old through the most recent pre-season.
"It has been a tough run through injury but Andrew Russell (high performance director) has been massive for me," Williamson said.
Related: Back injury sidelines Williamson
Russell said Williamson is "progressing really well" and should be available for selection early in the season.
“He certainly won’t be available for round one, but sometime early in the year we expect him to be out there,” he said.
Williamson said rumours about any "gut problems" are unfounded and have not had an impact on his pre-season.
"I have just been battling with my back, nothing else has stopped me playing footy other than that," he said.
The former Rat said he is hopeful of jumping back into full training next week, with the possibility of a return to the AFL early in the season.
"I'm really hoping I can be up and going for selection in that round two, three or four block," he said.
"If all goes to plan get I'll get a practice match in and maybe an early game in the VFL."
You can feel pretty isolated if you allow yourself toTom Williamson
Williamson said spending a significant amount of time on the sidelines during 2018 and the most recent off-season has been difficult but assistance has been there to guide him through it.
"The club has been really good in supporting me," he said.
"You keep doing little things off the field to keep your mind sane - you can feel pretty isolated if you allow yourself to.
"The main thing keeping me going is the boys and being around the group, we are a pretty close group of guys.
Read more: Williamson settles in at Blues (2016)
"As I have matured and come through the injury I have learnt about finding a balance to keep active but also allow the injury to heal."
Williamson said he hasn't been back home to Ararat recently but will do his best to come back and support the Rats in 2019.
"I always love getting home - it sort of feels like a holiday for me nowadays," he said.
"I'll try and get back a bit and get around the mighty Rats this year."
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