Jason Hoffman vividly remembers his first Grand Final, from the Newcastle Jets fans lining the freeway in anticipation to the "phenomenal" reception upon triumphantly returning from Sydney.
Rather than letting the experience go unharnessed, as a teenager six months into his career might have been forgiven for doing, the Newcastle local was set on soaking up his 15-minute cameo in the win over Central Coast Mariners in 2008.
Leaders of the ilk of Matt Thompson, Joel Griffiths and Jade North saw to that.
"A lot of the boys mentioned that you could go through your whole career without getting another chance to even play in a Grand Final, and to really make it count," Hoffman recalls.
"That was one message that really resonated with me.
"Before I played for the club I was a fan, so to be part of it as a player in front of my friends and family was great.
"To be part of that team was a dream start to professional football."
Developing with Villa
Such advice made increasing sense over the decade it took to get back to the big time.
The journey was not exactly linear; indeed, it required him coming full circle on the pitch and off it.
Initiating that process meant leaving his hometown club after three seasons for the newly-formed Melbourne Heart, soon to be known as City.
"I thought it was a good time to get out of Newcastle, which was very much a comfort zone, and grow up a bit," he explains.
"Not so much as a footballer but as a person in general. Go to a bigger city and learn to stand on my own two feet as an adult.
"For me it ended up being a great time in my life.
"I had another extremely good group that made it easy to transition as well. There were so many leaders in that first Melbourne Heart squad."
Another came later when FIFA World Cup™ winner David Villa, famed for his professionalism, was brought in to "headline the transition" to City.
Though his stay was only ever intended to be brief, Spain's all-time top scorer continues to serve his former team-mates – as a tour guide.
"For me the biggest thing I noticed was, for how big a superstar he was and such a great finisher he was, he was just extremely humble," Hoffman says of Spain's all-time top scorer.
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"Even to the point where I went on holidays to New York, I got in contact with him and he was more than happy to show me and my wife around. That just shows the kind of guy he was.
"He's a world superstar and to have him come out and see him day to day and in the matches was extremely important for me still as a young player at the time.
"For someone who was very quiet and humble, he certainly trained the house down."
Heading back to the Hunter
Hoffman, a prolific centre-forward for the Olyroos, reinvented himself as a right-back across 80 appearances in Victoria.
He revelled in the atmosphere and "hype" attached to the Melbourne Derby, but a Newcastle return always seemed fated and his homecoming materialised after five seasons away.
Now a cool-headed senior professional – the kind of which once eased him into the game – Hoffman's team-first attitude allowed for an unexpected rebirth as an attacking weapon under Ernie Merrick last term.
The fan favourite responded with six priceless goals, including an emotional sealer in the come-from-behind Semi Final victory over former club City.
It was the 29-year-old's first Finals Series appearance since the 2008 decider and perhaps the "standout moment" of his career.
While that long-awaited second Grand Final did not deliver the joy of the first, Hoffman is confident he won't spend another decade waiting for the next shot.
"Last season was a breakout season for the club and the team in general to show that consistency and show we can score goals and win matches," he says.
"To come back and try to restore the club back to the top of the table was a huge challenge to be a part of.
"Success doesn't happen overnight, it takes time to build a squad and a club.
"We definitely believe we can go one better than last year and feel we can win every match we play."