The Melbourne Demons and Adam Tomlinson are reeling after scans confirmed the worst for the in-form defender.
Tomlinson cut a forlorn figure during the undefeated Demons' hard-fought 30-point AFL win against winless North Melbourne on Sunday after leaving that field with a serious knee injury.
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The player was in tears during the match, with teammates trying to console him as the gravity of the injury became clearer.
It seemed inevitable from the moment Tomlinson clutched his knee that the defender had suffered a season-ending anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury.
On Monday, the club confirmed that an ACL tear had all but ruled out the 27-year-old for the remainder of the 2021 season.
"This is unfortunate news for Adam, who has been an integral part of our backline this season," Melbourne's football performance manager Alan Richardson said.
"Adam is a highly respected member of the playing group and a fantastic mentor for our younger players.
"He is extremely diligent in every aspect of his preparation, and we know that Adam will attack his rehabilitation and recovery with this mindset."
News of the devastating setback led to an outpouring of support for Tomlinson on social media.
Tomlinson 'shattered' by devastating injury
The former Greater Western Sydney utility went down in the first quarter as he attempted to corral Kangaroos big man Tom Campbell.
A tearful Tomlinson was quickly substituted off and consoled by teammates on the bench, knowing he would likely miss the rest of the season.
Commentators were also discussing the impact the crushing blow the setback had on his teammates.
“You can see the impact it’s having on his teammates,” Jason Dunstall told Fox Footy.
“He’s putting on the brave face, out there encouraging at the (quarter-time) huddle, which is a brilliant thing to do ... they are all making a point of going over to him.”
The 27-year-old has played a key role in Melbourne's rise to the top of the ladder and their best start to a season since going 8-0 in 1965.
Demons coach Simon Goodwin is adamant the ladder leaders will adjust without the much-loved and much-improved defender, who has manned Tom Hawkins and Jack Riewoldt this season.
"He's shattered," Goodwin told reporters after the match.
"It's really disappointing.
"He's done an incredible job to enable us to do the things we want to do.
"We'll have to restructure a bit ... Harrison Petty, who played a few weeks ago, is ready to play some really good AFL footy.
"Tom McDonald, we pushed him back (on Sunday) and he performed really strongly. We've got a couple of options."
Meanwhile, experienced midfielder Jack Viney will miss up to three weeks with a toe injury after being a late withdrawal against the Kangaroos.
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