ADEN Gardner left Edgeworth at the end of 2017 just to earn the chance to get back to the Eagles.
Two years later, the 22-year-old will be a key player when Edgeworth take on premiers Maitland in the NNSW NPL grand final at Magic Park.
Gardner burst onto the scene in 2016 in Edgeworth's all-conquering season and came off the bench in the 2-1 grand final win over Magic. He spent the next summer training with the Jets Youth squad before returning to the Eagles.
After a disappointing 2017, where he didn't feature in the grand final loss to Jaffas, Gardner left for game time at Valentine, then Charlestown.
At year's end he messaged Edgeworth coach Damian Zane asking for a chance back at the Eagles.
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Gardner earned his spot in pre-season then became the mainstay of the Eagles midfield that lost Dom Bizzarri early to injury and Jose Atayde late to overseas trials.
"I'm just so determined and I just love soccer, and I just wanted to prove to Zaney that I wanted to get back to Edgeworth, because I just love the club," Gardner said.
"The reason I left Edgeworth in the first place was to get an opportunity and some more game time under my belt so I could come back to Edgeworth.
"At the start of the year, Zaney didn't promise me game time, he said if you work hard, results will come and he'll give opportunities to the youth, as he does.
"Dom got injured and it was my turn, and I stepped up, and I haven't been dropped since.
"Zaney gets self-belief from youth and we all get self-confidence, and it just builds up from there. He's taken me under his wing this year and I've gone to another level. Looking back, I'm just really stoked with how things panned out."
Zane was thrilled with Gardner's response and his ability to fill any role in midfield.
"At the end of 2017, I was honest with him, I said if I had to pick a team with what we're going to have, I can't see you getting much game time," Zane said.
"It's a tough club to be at because there's a lot of guys who want to play and I'm pretty honest with them and I want them to play first grade.
"I was happy to have a look at him again. There were no hard feelings and he just showed a few signs of the old him. We're not sure what happened that year [in 2017], but he's gone from strength to strength.
"There was a cup game where he was a bit negative in his play, but the next time he came in, he wasn't just being a solid player, he was taking hold of matches and he's scored a few goals since and had some assists.
"His workrate is amazing but he's been more than that this year, he's a been a matchwinner as well.
"He epitomises what our club is about, he works so hard."
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