FOR as long as he has been playing soccer, Bendigo's Aidan Lane has looked forward to every new season with unbridled hope and enthusiasm.
That has particularly been the case in 2022 as the 22-year-old prepares to lead Men's State League 5 West newcomers Bendigo City FC into battle in its return to senior soccer for the first time since 2017.
But the star midfielder and captain's passion and zest are being put to the test following the serious knee injury he sustained at the 35-minute mark of last weekend's stirring practice match win over State League 4 team Gisborne at Epsom Huntly Recreation Reserve.
The injury has put not only his hopes of taking the field in City's MSL season opener against Maidstone United on March 19 in jeopardy, but his entire season.
The prodigiously talented former National Premier Leagues Victoria player is waiting to have an MRI scan.
But a waiting-list backlog in Bendigo will prevent him from having the scan for at least two more weeks.
The injury has been the only real downer during an impressive, invigorating and galvanising pre-season for Bendigo City and not exactly the homecoming Lane had envisioned after opting to return from NPL club Green Gully to lead his home club in its first season back in senior ranks.
"I can walk on it, but I can't really turn and there is a fair bit of discomfort as well," he said.
"It's hard to tell what's going on until I get an MRI and unfortunately, with COVID, places (in Bendigo) are pretty booked up, so at the minute it looks as though I am going to have to wait three weeks to get an MRI.
"I am looking to try and get one in Melbourne sooner to give me an idea of where I am.
"It's tricky. I went to the physio, but there is no swelling or anything, but I have injuries in the past where I've done some damage and there has been no swelling.
"So, it's hard to gauge from that.
"But the positive is I can walk on it and there is a bit movement through there, so fingers crossed."
In the worst-case scenario, Lane said it would be 'absolutely gut-wrenching' to miss the season, one filled with promise for Bendigo City as it starts its hopeful long climb back up the Victorian soccer ranks.
For the moment he is working on a series of exercises to help strengthen and rehabilitate the knee.
Previous knee injuries have sidelined him for six to eight weeks at a time, but missing the club's State League 5 debut against Maidstone United on March 19 would be a bitter pill to swallow, he admits.
"I'm hopeful it's only a minor strain and I only miss four weeks or something like that," he said.
"Or perhaps even a pinched nerve, in which case I might miss only two weeks.
"But until I get that MRI it's all up in the air."
Lane, the son of Spring Gully United legend Grant and Mandy Lane, started playing with the Reds at age six.
By 14, he was playing division two at Spring Gully before making the move to Epsom a year later to play with Bendigo City FC to first play under-15s and eventually under-16s and a handful of senior games.
With no senior team at Bendigo City after the 2017 season, Lane made the decision to continue his flourishing career in Melbourne, first in the reserves at Sunshine George Cross followed by a two-year stint with rival NPL club Green Gully in the under-21s.
A naturally positive individual, Lane credits his NPL experience for moulding him into not only a better player, but a better person.
"It was great experience, getting to play at a top club like Green Gully. I learned a lot on and off the pitch," he said.
"Especially the demand in intensity - training three nights a week, games as well. Travelling four nights a week to Melbourne is a big commitment, but a great experience.
"Doing all that and working with Futsal in Bendigo was a big commitment, but you obviously get your priorities right when you want to play at that level."
When discussions about a possible return to senior ranks for Bendigo City first emerged in the latter part of 2021, Lane described his want to get involved as 'a no-brainer'.
"It wasn't a hard-sell, not at all. I played my juniors here and always wanted to play in the senior team at Bendigo City," he said.
"To be able to come back and captain a team, which has a huge future ahead of it, and with a lot of good juniors, it's important we provide a pathway for them going forward.
"We'll look to work our way up from the bottom of State League and I'm pretty confident we can do it.
"The whole culture and environment from when I was last here is a whole lot different from when I was last year.
"Everyone and everything is looking positive."
It's a claim backed by a string of impressive results during the pre-season, highlighted by wins over State League 2 team Mooroolbark and State League 4 side Gisborne and a tough extra-time loss to State League 4 team Watsonia Heights in their Australia Cup (formerly FFA Cup) fixture, which City led 2-1 late in the second half.
Playing coach Greg Thomas has made no secret of the club's focus during pre-season predominantly being on its opening match against Maidstone United, while the bigger goal is winning promotion in the first season back.
While the end goal may have raised a few eyebrows outside of the Bendigo City camp, the new skipper absolutely views it as achievable.
"I think so. It's a pretty good young group and there's a lot of quality coming through," he said.
"Even in the under-18s, there are some great young players coming through there that will likely get an opportunity to play seniors this season.
"I see no reason why we can't push ourselves and work our way up and win the league this year.
"We want to go as high as we can. We don't know much about the opposition, but they don't know much about us either.
"We'll just play our brand and look to pick up three points whenever we can."
We'll look to work our way up from the bottom of State League and I'm pretty confident we can do it.- Aidan Lane
Potentially facing an extended stint on the sidelines, Lane viewed the selection of Daniel Purdy and Will Keating as inspired choices as vice-captains and has no doubt the pair will step up to be shrewd and compelling leaders in his potential absence from the field.
"There's a lot of experience there with Daniel Purdy, being one of the older players in the team," he said.
"He's been there and done that - it's great having him on board.
"Will, we know he's a good leader, still young and a good player as well.
"Both give us different options, but can certainly lead on the pitch as well as off.
"Building the team spirit off the pitch is just important as what happens on the pitch. and with Daniel and Will we are in good hands."
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