Daniel staying the course with improving Brisbane Lions
IT'S fair to say Daniel McStay is in a better place now than he was two years ago.
Out of necessity, the promising Brisbane Lions key position player was thrown to the wolves.
He was barely 20 and, due to a spate of teammates being sidelined with injury, was forced to carry the attack on his young shoulders.
Defeat after defeat wasn't helping his mental state, which was taking its own beating.
"That second year was the hardest," the 2013 draftee says ahead of tomorrow's clash with Carlton at the Gabba.
"I was playing as the key forward, and wasn't really getting a lot of the ball."
Despite showing glimpses of his immense athletic prowess, McStay endured a nine-match stint midway through 2015 in which he failed to notch double figures for disposals and only kick five goals.
"You look at the stats, and you're getting four or five touches here and there. I found that really difficult," he said.
"That caused me to kind of dislike footy at that stage.
"But, since then I've put my best foot forward and the team has done the same.
"I'm starting to really enjoy my footy again and I think a lot of blokes are."
Fast forward to 2017, and while the Lions are still yet to match the 2015 record of four wins, there has been a dramatic increase in optimism.
From Melbourne's east, McStay put pen to paper last month on a new deal tying him to Brisbane until at least 2019, despite the lure from clubs down south.
"I had to assess my options," he said. "I spoke with my manager my family... I just decided in the end that Brisbane was the club I wanted to stay at. I think we've got a successful future coming.
"We might not be getting the wins now. It's just that consistency throughout four quarters that is letting us down.
"But, our best footy can match it with the best teams in the comp."
McStay's change of outlook has coincided with a change in role under coach Chris Fagan.
After spending the last five months of 2016 recovering from a broken ankle, he was back for round one, and in defence alongside Harris Andrews and Darcy Gardiner.
"I feel like I've really cemented my spot down back," he said.
"Coming back from my ankle injury I was thinking I would be play up forward this year.
"I guess the side felt they were missing a key defender (with Daniel Merrett and Justin Clarke both retiring).
"It worked out pretty well. Hippy (Eric Hipwood) is going really well up forward and now (Josh) Schache's back in the side and played a really good game on the weekend
"They are going to be a real challenge for key defenders in the future."
His aerial prowess remains a feature of his game - be it spoiling or, preferably, marking. He is third at the club for contested marking behind Andrews and Hipwood, and hauled in 11 grabs in total and collected 19 disposals in the win over Essendon in round 15 and another 10 marks and 14 disposals last week against Richmond.
"I'm trying to impact the ball in flight as much as I can," he says.
"I've also been trying to get more involved on the offensive end.
"Early days I was just trying to find my feet down there.
"The last couple of weeks I've felt I've really started to get off my man and impact up the field and help my teammates out that way.
"Hopefully as time goes on I'll be able to sneak down, even as a backman, and still kick a few goals."
McStay's still learning the backline caper though, with Lance Franklin (eight goals) and Charlie Dixon (four goals) getting the better of him. He wouldn't be alone there though.
"He (Franklin) was obviously very difficult to play on," he says. "And Dixon's a very big man; strong but also very quick on the lead.
"I don't think we play them again this year, but hopefully I get the challenge again, and will take it with both hands."
And while now settled in Brisbane - and in defence - there are still mental demons he's dealing with.
"I put a fair bit of pressure on myself," he said. "I want to be perfect even though you can't be.
"I've had struggles with that, but it's all part of learning and growing as a player.
"I've had help along the way to improve in that area. I feel like I'm really starting to overcome that, and I think my football has shown that."