FREMANTLE, AUSTRALIA - JULY 28: Ryan Crowley of the Dockers works on some drills during a Fremantle Dockers AFL training session at Fremantle Oval on July 28, 2015 in Fremantle, Australia. (Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)

Essendon top-up player Ryan Crowley says he “went to some real dark places” during his 12-month ban for a doping offence.

Crowley was suspended for 12-months after testing positive to a banned substance that was in a painkiller he took to help with back problems.

Crowley was delisted by the Dockers at the end of last season after completing his suspension after 188 games with Fremantle.

The 31-year-old said it was the worst period of his life.

“I went to some real dark places,” Crowley said in an interview with RSN on Monday morning.

“I’ve never hidden the fact that it was by far and away the hardest (experience) of my life.

“It was a really lonely place. The footy club becomes your life, I was living away from home in Perth, even though I’ve been there for a long time, you really immerse yourself in the footy club and everyone at the footy club becomes your family and all of a sudden you’re out on your own and there’s limited contact you can have with the club.

“When you’re walking down the street, people are talking about it. It was a really, really, really, really, really tough time. At the time, I was hating every second of it and it was really difficult, but looking back now, I learned a lot about myself, learned a lot about the people that were close to me and now it’s brought me here.

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“In a strange way, I probably wouldn’t change it now. I’ve grown as a person because of it.”

Crowley says he has one piece of important advice for the current banned Essendopn players.

“At the start of my ban, I had played 100 games straight and I had been a pretty big part of where we had moved as a team with Fremantle, I thought, and then to be missing out on what was a pretty exciting year was pretty tough for me,” Crowley said.

“So the first few rounds, I sort of locked myself away and watched the games by myself and I would ride every bump, every emotion by myself.

“And that was the toughest time, from round one to round four or five. But once I accepted what had happened, and I would allow myself to be around my friends, things got a bit easier.

“So I just hope that they can sort of lean on each other … because even when think you might be going well, I can guarantee you that when round one starts, things will become a whole heap harder.

“That was something I wish I had have done sooner.”

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