It’s fair to say young GIANTS forward Conor Stone has had rotten luck with injuries to start his AFL career. He pulled his hamstring twice in his first season and then three more times in his second season. A bulging disk and arthritis in his back followed as he was sidelined for 10 weeks in his third year. But as he enters his fourth campaign, with just nine AFL games to his name, the promising 21-year-old is buoyant his body will finally allow him his best chance of becoming a regular AFL footballer.

“It's been good to have some continuity the last six months so I’m trying to ride that,” Stone said.

“I’m in a good spot where I’m able to attack each and every session knowing my body is in a good way. Mentally as well, knowing I’m not coming back from any injuries and I’m able to join in full trainings is great.”

A powerful 189cm medium forward blessed with speed to burn, Stone was taken with pick 15 in the 2020 AFL Draft but is yet to fully display the talent shown for the Oakleigh Chargers at under -18 level.

Plagued by persistent hamstring injuries, Stone was part of a small GIANTS contingent - alongside teammate Brent Daniels - who visited the University of Wisconsin in the United States in 2022 on a fact-finding mission to help build a program that would put their hamstring woes behind them.

With no hamstring issues since the US visit, and his back issues now under control, Stone is hopeful they are a thing of the past as he looks to let his footy do the talking from here on out.

“My first year I did two ‘hammies’, both in my right leg. Then my second year I did three, two during the year, both on my left leg, and then one in the off-season on my right leg. But touch wood I haven’t had once since that trip to the US.

“We had a look into the reasons for my ‘hammies’ going [being strained] with Brian Heiderscheit at the University of Wisconsin and it was pretty interesting stuff which kind of confirmed we were in the right direction, and it was good to get that reassurance,” he said.

“There was always that fear factor of doing it again [straining his hamstring], but now I’m alright.

“My weapon is my speed and ‘Kingers’ [coach Adam Kingsley] probably agrees with that so I have to have pretty good working ‘hammies’ to achieve that, so I’ve got to a stage where I’m pretty confident in my body and think I’m in a good spot now.”

Stone, who also studies Commerce at UNSW, credits a pair of GIANTS teammates who he says showed him the blueprint of how to overcome the mental demons that come with long-term injuries.

“I’ve had boys who have been in similar situation to me which has been really helpful.

“Like ‘Bucks’ [Jack Buckley], he obviously had a year-and-a-half long ACL injury and then ‘Binga’ [Brent Daniels] as well who was out for a similar time frame for me as well with his ‘hammies’.

“They both missed so much football and so the advice they’ve given me has been huge and just seeing how they’ve managed themselves and carried themselves over that period and especially what they’re doing now and what they were able to achieve last year was huge.

“’Bucks’ played every game last year and ‘Binga’ played pretty much every game and they’re focal points of the footy club at the moment so it’s pretty good having those connections and them as examples that you can overcome injuries like that.

“Phil Davis, who missed a lot of footy towards the end of his career through hamstring and other soft tissue injuries is another who gave me great advice, along with Matt de Boer who is just a very strong-willed person who was also very helpful.”

Despite his good health, Stone is under no illusions that breaking into Adam Kingsley’s high-octane forward line this season will be an easy feat.

“One thing we didn’t have a lot of when I first got to the club was a lot of speed but now you look all over the place and all you can see is speed so it’s a tough forward line to crack.

“’Browny’ [Callum Brown] really came on last year, ‘Snooze’ [Toby Bedford] came in and had a massive impact, Darcy Jones is training really well, there’s ‘Muff’ [Toby McMullin], obviously you’ve got Toby [Greene], the best player in the comp, then our key forwards are doing their thing and then the young boys are coming through too.

“But you want that competition as it makes guys play on edge knowing that if you don’t play well and there’s good form in the VFL or in trial games then that spot can get taken pretty quickly.

“All you need is a couple of weeks to make the most of your opportunity and then you can get a good run at it.”

Also, an avid golfer away from the footy field, Stone’s main focus is doing everything he can to impress coaches as the GIANTS’ Opening Round clash with Collingwood looms.

“To play in the Opening Round would be a massive accomplishment and I’d be pretty proud if I could get there.

“Obviously we had a strong finish to the back end of last year and the competition for spots is pretty high and we’ve got a few boys who missed a fair bit of footy last year who are coming back fit and firing,

“It’s always the goal to play the first game but there’s also nearly 30 other weeks of footy so my goal is to play as much as I can in the AFL side.

“If my opportunity comes later in the year I’ll take it then, but if it comes earlier then I’ll take it.

“For me it’s about taking each session day by day and making myself a better player for the team.

“The goal is to play as many games as I can and hopefully have a good impact for the AFL side but if not, I’ll be doing my best to make the club a better place.

“As frustrating as it’s been [being injured], I wouldn’t change it, there’s hopefully so much more football for me to play, so we’ll wait and see.”