Young Swan Dylan Stephens said dealing with contract speculation was "weird" last season, and he's now ready to lock in a regular position in John Longmire's 22.
Stephens, the No.5 pick from the 2019 NAB AFL Draft, was in the headlines for much of last year before inking a new two-year deal in September.
"It was really tough," Stephens told AFL.com.au.
"Throughout the season when I wasn't playing I was getting approached by other clubs, Victorian and South Australian, constantly, as well as trying to play footy.
"That's (contract) the last thing on your mind at the time.
"They weren't approaching me directly, but it's things in the media coming out about that, your teammates seeing that too, it can be weird, but lucky for me I just put it aside and focussed on what was at hand."
Stephens has had a patchy first two seasons in the AFL, playing eight games in 2020 and seven last year as he battled to crack a well-established midfield.
But he never wanted to leave after forming a bond with the rest of the young Swans. He said the spending times in hubs over the past two years had been great for building relationships.
"I always wanted to stay, I've only spent two years and love it here," he said.
"How much time we spent together, the tough times of being away from hone and we're all in it together.
"We had a choice to make, whether to embrace it or have a sook about it and we chose to enjoy it.
"We got a great group of young blokes. We're a tight knit group and the last thing you want to do is leave that after only two years."
Stephens came back for pre-season training in terrific shape and has kicked on in the ensuing three months.
Longmire says the young South Australian is one player he hopes to see in the midfield/wing mix more this season.
"We think there's others that haven't played every game like Dylan Stephens, Chad Warner, Braeden Campbell … these guys we feel are going to be very good players for us," Longmire said.
"We feel they can come in and play a good role for us.
"The evolution of our team means that load will be shared across a number of different players."
Stephens wants to be one of those, regularly, mixing time between wing and 'inside' during match simulation so far.
He's put on 12kg in the two years since his draft and now feels ready to mix it with the bigger bodies.
"The main thing is having that confidence and backing myself in," he said.
"It's difficult coming in and out of side, for me struggling to get those few games in a row to get that confidence.
"I've been in one game, out another, it's hard to get that confidence.
"My goal is to be in that round one side and go from there and get that continuity.
"I'm really looking forward to getting a game, I've put a lot of hard work in over off season.
"That's my goal in the grand scheme of things, to be a regular player in the side."