Reece Conca says it was like being shot in the back of the leg.

He's talking about the moment his left hamstring tendon gave way just 12 minutes into Richmond's losing elimination final to Carlton.

The 21-year-old was running for the ball alongside Blues opponents Zach Tuohy and Robbie Warnock. He'd pushed off but was nowhere near full pace; in fact, Tuohy had a light hold of his left arm.

Suddenly, he pulled up, hopped in the air, and then crashed to the deck where the pain was written all over his face.

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"I just knew immediately. It was one of those things; it literally feels like you've been shot," Conca told this week.

"I just tried to get off the ground as quick as possible and a few trainers came on and helped me off."

Conca sat in the rooms for the rest of the quarter and collected his thoughts.

He knew the injury was pretty serious. While soft-tissue injuries weren't something he knew a great deal about, he was sure this one was big.

After he pulled himself together, he donned a tracksuit and came up to the bench to watch the rest of the game, which the Tigers lost by 20 points.

"That wasn't so great either, with the way we finished," he said.

"All in all, it was a pretty disappointing day."

There had been little warning his hamstring tendon was in danger of giving way.

Conca remembers feeling a little tight in the area before the game but figured it was normal given the late state of the season.

He started the game on the bench and when he came on, felt he hadn't warmed his legs up enough.

But still, there was no telling he'd sustain an injury that would rob him of half his pre-season and need surgery to fix.

"It's almost impossible to know if there's an issue with your tendon because the muscle around it is what you feel is tight," he said.

"We do a lot of squeeze tests at the club each week to make sure that we don't have any issues and all those results were fine because all the muscles around the tendon were compensating for it.

"They think it was a progression. The tendon would have been wearing down over three or four weeks and it just so happened it went at that very moment."

Despite the operation, and another a week later to remove an "extra bone" from the back of his right heel (known as the os trigonum bone, with which only a small number of people are born), Conca managed a decent break from football.

After a week on the couch recovering from the operations, the second of which was scheduled as he needed it done anyway and it made sense to rehabilitate two areas at the same time, he headed to Brazil with his teammates.

After joining eight teammates on the Tigers' Rio de Janeiro cultural exchange program, he spent time in his hometown of Perth.

While Conca has plans to move home at some stage – "maybe in 20 years" – it didn't enter his mind this year when his management was negotiating his new contract.

He signed a three-year deal in September, after persistent speculation he was set to head to a West Australian club.

"I personally wanted to try and hurry it up, to get it done," he said.

"In my mind, I was never really going to go and it got blown out of proportion, like the media does when all of that is going on.

"You always naturally have a thought about it. Coming from Perth, it's completely different to Melbourne.

"But we've got that young developing group and the club as a whole seems to be moving in the right direction."

That direction is something he wants more say in.

After being part of the Tigers' emerging leaders group this season, he wants to take another step in his development as one of the voices of the team in 2014.  

Having been encouraged by Dylan Grimes' promotion from it to the leadership group this year, Conca wants to take more ownership in his fourth AFL season as well as make a consistent on-field contribution.

"It's a younger group of leaders that is pushing to grow their leadership to one day get into the leadership group," he said.

"I want to continually improve on my first three seasons.

"I've had a few injuries and stuff, which have been a hiccup, but my aim for this year is to play 22 healthy games and really contribute to the team, and then play some more finals and get some more success on the back of that."