EVER since a moment of madness that may ultimately still turn out to be what defines his football career, Melbourne's Tomas Bugg has been working towards regaining the respect and trust of those he let down.
That process started in June last year, after Bugg left Sydney youngster Callum Mills concussed in an ugly behind-the-play incident that saw the Demon rubbed out for six weeks by the AFL Tribunal.
Although he is not at all proud of his actions, Bugg said that fateful Friday night at the MCG in round 15, 2017, had been a watershed moment in his career.
"With my lifestyle, I just made sure that footy came first," Bugg told AFL.com.au.
"Just little things. Doing the unselfish things. If I make a decision on field or off field it's always what's best for the team now.
"Once I did that, everything kind of followed. It didn't happen overnight, but three or four months of hard work and being focussed gets you back to the point where you're offering the team some value."
The incident with Mills came after Bugg drew unwanted attention for a provocative pre-game Instagram post challenging Western Bulldog Jason Johannisen in round 13, and a Twitter spat with former Giants teammate Taylor Adams ahead of Melbourne’s Queen's Birthday meeting with Collingwood.
Bugg was sent away from the club for 10 days in the immediate aftermath of the incident with Mills, time he used to contact the young Swan to express his remorse for his actions and to reassess what he wanted to stand for as a footballer.
Upon returning, Melbourne's fitness staff put the forward through a punishing regime while he was ineligible to play between rounds 16 to 21.
Training would finish and the rest of the players would be laughing and carrying on, relaxing on the sidelines. And there would be Bugg, often the only one out on Gosch's Paddock, as the coaching and equipment staff were packing up, looking down at his watch to make sure he was meeting the times that had been set for him during gut-busting running sessions.
To his credit, Bugg didn't complain. He didn't drop his bottom lip, didn't blame anyone else other than himself. Bugg just got on with it and, after playing the final two games of the season back in the VFL once his ban had finished, set himself to have "the best pre-season of his career".
The 24-year-old beat out usual time trial king Tom McDonald in the club's 2km time trial post-Christmas, and he was often regarded as a standout – based on his work ethic on the training track – over summer.
His teammates and others at the club have noticed a change in his professionalism, an improved team-first attitude and a newfound humility.
"When you act like that you have to take responsibility for those actions and I've used this summer to hopefully try to change that perception," Bugg said.
"Hopefully going forward I can keep changing that perception."
Bugg missed selection in round one as the Demons went down to Geelong by three points, but was recalled for the trip to Brisbane to take on the Lions after a lack of forward pressure was noticeable against the Cats.
Bugg gathered 13 disposals, laid four tackles but was wayward in front of goal – booting 0.2.
Given the depth in the position of half-forward at the club, Bugg is well aware he needs to not only keep producing those team-first acts and put pressure on the opposition, but also finish his work when he gets his chances.
"It's going to be challenging all year, but that's what happens when sides start to play good footy. We want to become a great side and you look to Hawthorn or to Geelong and what they've done over the last five to 10 years, and they've both had really deep lists," Bugg said.
Bugg is set to play the 95th match of his seven-year career against North Melbourne on Saturday. Twenty-nine of those 94 matches have come at Melbourne after 65 games at Greater Western Sydney, where he was one of the club's foundation players.
The defensive forward is out-of-contract at year's end and Melbourne will want to see more from Bugg that he has in fact changed for the better, before offering him a new deal.
"I just had to earn that respect back and sustain it as well, and I think I've done that over time," Bugg said.