Will Hayward admits he enjoyed one of the most consistent seasons of his career but concedes the heartbreaking loss to GWS in the finals has fuelled his desire for 'ultimate success'.
Entering his fifth season at the start of 2021, Hayward missed the opening four games of the new campaign before his patience and hard work was rewarded with a start in Sydney Derby XX in Round 5.
He immediately made his presence known with a starring performance in his first senior match of the year, recording three goals and 18 disposals in front of a packed SCG.
The dynamic forward finished the season with 28 goals from 20 appearances - becoming a lethal weapon in a forward line that already boasted the likes of Lance Franklin, Isaac Heeney and Tom Papley.
"I think after missing the first few games of the year, it was a big mission of mine to get back in the team and play consistent footy," he said.
"I think over the games this year, I played my role each week, but I was just devastated to not go further in the finals.
"My goal for next year is just to build on my game. i had one of my more consistent years and I want build on that into next season.
"But I have mainly have a team focus and want to get the ultimate success."
While proud of his own efforts to force his way into the team and play every single game since Round 5, Hayward credited the profound influence of Jarrad McVeigh that ultimately paved the way for his successful individual season.
Such was his consistency, Hayward kicked majors in 12 consecutive games between Rounds 10-22, and admits his work with the former club captain was a big factor in his improved campaign.
"i think all the leaders we have at the club, in particular Jarrad McVeigh - I worked a lot with him just with vision or just about extra things i needed to do to get back in the team. He
"He has been an awesome person to come in and be a forwards coach and I've just enjoyed working under him."
Hayward admits one of the biggest challenges away from the field was the club being forced into a hectic 11-week travel period due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
As he reflects on the unprecedented experience, he says he will relish the time spent with players and staff and tributes the strength of character amongst the club that helped them persevere through the obstacles.
"I think this club is really resilient and I think if we get put in a tough situation we always try and find a positive," he said.
"That's what we did again this year - we really embraced it and got our families and partners down [to Melbourne].
"The situation wasn't ideal but looking back on it in, in a few years, it will be a really fond memory."
60 tackles (3 per game)
208 disposals (10.4 per game)
81 marks (4 per game)