Port Adelaide defender Tom Clurey has lifted the lid on the 'mentally challenging' struggle caused by a herniated disc in his back and the off-season that almost saw him leave the Power.

Clurey's 2023 season was cut short by mid-May, with a pre-game back complaint in the SANFL eventually leading to surgery after a bulging disc was discovered to be causing further concerns.

The affliction added to a frustrating few years for Clurey, who had undergone jaw and knee surgeries over recent seasons to last get through a full pre-season in 2021.

His latest stint on the sidelines took its toll mentally, with Clurey admitting he struggled to stay positive around the club while working through his recovery.

"It was a challenging year, personally. Frustrating, and just about everything went wrong," Clurey told Zero Hanger. 

"When I hurt my back, it was just in the warm-up for a SANFL game. I was just picking up a ground ball and my back kind of jagged and it just kept getting worse from there. I had a bulging disc and rested for five to six weeks off the advice I got from the surgeon.

"Then we re-scanned it and the disc had actually herniated, which meant it was surgery time. I wasn't expecting it to be a full-season thing.

ADELAIDE, AUSTRALIA - OCTOBER 12: Darcy Byrne-Jones of Port Adelaide competes with Tom Clurey of Port Adelaide for a Tom Jonas of Port Adelaide handballs during a Port Adelaide Power AFL training session at Alberton Oval on October 12, 2020 in Adelaide, Australia. (Photo by Mark Brake/Getty Images)

"Mentally it was certainly a challenge. After I had the surgery it was half a year knowing you're not going to have any part in it. Still, you've got to try to be positive around the group, come in smiling with a good attitude and control what you can control pretty much."

Talks with coach Ken Hinkley and concerns over his body led to discussions over a potential departure from Alberton Oval after 11 years, despite Clurey being contracted with the Power until the end of 2025.

Port Adelaide wouldn't have sat in the way of a move for Clurey, with all parties agreeing to go their separate ways if an offer eventuated. But none would.

Now back at the club after weighing up his future elsewhere, the key position defender remains driven to help the club reach the top and believes the coming years under Hinkley might be the most opportune to do so.

"There were some conversations had around the unknowns of my body and future and all of that, but nothing eventuated during the trade period. I'm happy to still be here, I've been here a fairly long time now," Clurey revealed.

"We definitely explored options, and the club wanted me to explore my options. There were talks through that period, it was a bit of a crazy period really as I've never kind of been through that. There was a bit happening but nothing eventuated, and I'm happy to be here in my 12th year.

"Getting my body right is my No.1 focus. I've put myself in a good spot at the moment. It is very exciting at the club, to see some of the younger players that have come through, over the next couple of years, and then the next five years, there's a big future here. So I'm keen to hang around and I want to be part of every minute of it."

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 06: Tom Clurey of the Power kicks during the round three AFL match between the Brisbane Lions and the Port Adelaide Power at The Gabba on April 06, 2019 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

In his endeavours to get the most out of himself in the coming years, Clurey has made the move to a wing role over the summer following further conversations with his coach.

The off-season arrivals of Esava Ratugolea and Brandon Zerk-Thatcher have placed a squeeze on the key defensive spots under Hinkley, giving Clurey a chance to potentially revitalise his career with a new role.

Looking to utilise his running capacity and ball movement in a new position, the veteran defender has been left excited by the change ahead of his 12th season with the Power.

"Obviously we recruited a couple of key defenders, so there's more pressure there. Kenny said that there's possibly an opening on the wing, with my strengths, that could possibly suit me," Clurey said.

"I had thought about it a little bit also. So it kind of matched up I suppose. I've been loving it, still learning but very excited. I think there's a good opportunity there for myself.

"I can definitely bring something to that role, with my strengths being running and using the ball. I'm very positive and optimistic, and am looking forward to this year. I'm just keen to get stuck into games.

"For the last 11 years I've only been training at full-back. So it's definitely a different look, but I've adapted alright and I can hopefully keep growing in that area."

Set to challenge Miles Bergman Travis Boak, Willem Drew and Jase Burgoyne for a spot on the wing, Clurey isn't taking a patient approach in his bid to return to the senior side.

PERTH, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 03: Tom Clurey of the Power in action during the round 3 AFL match between the West Coast Eagles and the Port Adelaide Power at Optus Stadium on April 03, 2021 in Perth, Australia. (Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)

Having worked his way back from a series of setbacks, the Katamatite junior is staking his claim as a name fans shouldn't forget.

"I don't want to sit here and just wait in line and hope I get a call-up. I want to push my case, I want to earn my spot and get into the team to play consistent AFL footy," he said.

"That's my drive, that's my motivator. Especially having played AFL for so many years, then having the injuries and playing SANFL games.

"So my passion and drive to play AFL is 100% still there, and I think I can still contribute to the team."