HE had become a key South Fremantle midfielder by the 2019 Grand Final and then was the heartbreaking story to miss the premiership of 2020 but now Jake Florenca could provide a fairytale story for the Bulldogs on Saturday.
Florenca began his South Fremantle career knowing of his family ties to the club but he had to wait patiently for a regular spot in the midfield to open up at league level over the 2016, 2017 and 2018 seasons.
He eventually got that chance he was craving as a regular on-baller in 2019 and was instrumental in South Fremantle overcoming a run of losing three straight preliminary finals to reach the Grand Final.
That day didn’t quite go to plan against Subiaco but in 2020, Florenca went up another gear and by the end of the season had finished third in South Fremantle's fairest and best voting, was named to the WAFL Team of the Year and came fourth in the Sandover Medal.
The only problem was with South Fremantle on the way to beating West Perth in the preliminary final, Florenca devastatingly ruptured his Achilles tendon, had surgery days later and missed the Grand Final triumph for the Bulldogs against Claremont.
Looking back now, that was a remarkably tough time for Florenca to deal with knowing he had played such a role in South Fremantle getting that chance in the premiership, but he'll always remember his teammates for embracing him still.
"I've only played a few games this year so I'm cherry ripe now coming into the Grand Final which is a good place to be in. It would mean the world if we were able to win and I know my uncle has a premiership so it would mean everything if I could get one as well," Florenca told 91.3 SportFM.
"It was one of the toughest weeks of my life really. I wasn’t allowed at the game because I'd just had surgery on my Achilles so I had to watch it on TV and there were a lot of mixed emotions.
"But after the game, I went to the rooms on my crutches and went down the stairs to see all the boys and that's a memory I'll keep forever.
"Walking in and seeing how happy the boys were was pretty special. Suban even offered me his premiership medal after the game. I didn’t except it, but just that offer made me feel pretty special."
Florenca didn’t make it back onto the field until Round 18 this year when he put in a solid reserves showing to be right back into the league side the next week against West Perth.
He immediately settled back into the swing of things with 29 possessions and a spectacular goal and his form had been tremendous until copping an early knock in the second semi-final against Subiaco.
That was just another hurdle for him to overcome, but he bounced back well in Sunday's preliminary final win against Claremont with South Fremantle booking in a place in Saturday's Grand Final against Subiaco at Optus Stadium.
Seeing where he has got back to now and knowing he's preparing for another Grand Final makes the challenges of the past 12 months' worth it for Florenca.
"It was a long journey for me to get back. I basically had to learn how to work again after being on crutches for three months, but credit to Sam O'Neill and the strength and conditioning staff for the amount of work they put into me to help me make it back," he said.
"It was just a lot of rehab sessions and I just had to stick to that process really knowing that eventually I'd make it back.
"Knowing when I got back into the team that I didn’t need to do anything special, I just had to play my part but I knew I had got my body back up to shape so I was confident by that stage I wouldn’t get any soft tissue injuries or anything and it's all been smooth sailing in terms of that.
"I did get a knock in the last game against Subi, though, and you could call it a severe cork really. I just got hit in the sweet spot and I couldn’t really lift my legs so I couldn’t get back out on the ground for the rest of that game, but it got better in time for last week and I'm all good now."
Florenca now can't wait to get another chance to play at Optus Stadium on Saturday in the Grand Final and was glad to get a taste of the stadium mid-week aside from the pesky mosquitos.
"I'm pretty excited about it. It's been a long journey to get back to this point so I'm pretty keen for it and Saturday can't come quick enough really," Florenca said.
"We had a little training session there on Wednesday night, probably about an hour's worth, just to tick the legs over and see what it's like out there and trying out some different things so that was good.
"The ground was looking pretty good apart from all of the mosquitos that were around under the lights which were annoying, but obviously it's a very nice stadium and we can't wait to play there."
A Grand Final week is never like any other week no matter how much teams always try to make sure they are, but Florenca and the Bulldogs don't want to get caught up in doing anything too different leading into the big game on Saturday.
"We're just trying to keep to our usual plan as much as possible and don’t want to change up too much. We've got this far already from doing things the way we have been doing them so we don’t want to change too much up and get ready for Saturday," he said.
"There's a good feeling around the club. We do have a couple of boys banged up but they'll have fitness tests leading into Saturday and see how they pull up but we are pretty confident of getting the job done with whoever we have running out there."
Overcoming Subiaco is what lies ahead of South Fremantle with the Lions having won six straight finals match ups against the Bulldogs dating back to 2016 including the 96-point win in the 2019 Grand Final.
Florenca remains confident South Fremantle can turn that around, though, providing their midfield is on song and their pressure is up from the start.
"They have been the best team for the last 10 years so it's going to be a big challenge but we think their strength is probably their midfield, but we have a good midfield as well with Schloithe, Suban, Matty Parker and now Drago and Tommy Blechynden in there," Florenca said.
"If we can match it there then I think it will go a long way to us winning the game. From that game two weeks ago, we just have to lift our tackling pressure from the start and our pressure on them around the ground.
"We didn’t really get very deep entries into our forward-line last time but in the second half we started to do that, and that's when we looked more dangerous and were able to score more.
"They do have big bodies and are a physical team so we don't want to get bullied around either. It's going to be about tackle pressure at the start really and then we'll go from there."