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Winning without skipper a key test: Hird

Sam Lienert 20/05/2011 05:34:12 PM Comments (0)

Essendon coach James Hird says the Bombers' status as the AFL's big improvers means a lot less if they can't win without injured skipper Jobe Watson.

The league's top possession-winner will be missing with a hamstring injury for several weeks, starting with Saturday night's Dreamtime at the G match against Richmond.

The size of that handicap is underlined by the fact that Watson has touched the ball 71 more times this season than his nearest teammate, first-year player Dyson Heppell.

Given there are seven Tigers who have won the ball as much or more than Heppell, some Essendon lesser lights will have to lift.

But Hird said if an Essendon midfield which has also lost Heath Hocking (suspension) could not cope, the club's climb from 14th last year to third currently was less impressive than it appeared.

"We'll miss Jobe a lot, but I think it's a great opportunity for other players to step up and you never know what will happen until someone's out of the team," Hird said.

"The Essendon football team has to be good enough to win big games with Jobe and without Jobe and until we do that, we probably haven't improved as much as we think we have."

While the Tigers should have a midfield edge, their rucks and tall defenders are in for a tough night.

The combined talents of Paddy Ryder, David Hille and Tom Bellchambers are a daunting prospect for inexperienced Tiger ruck duo Andrew Browne, playing his first game this season and sixth overall, and 20-year-old Tyrone Vickery.

The Bombers big men could do even more damage in attack, given the Richmond defence could not handle Western Bulldogs part-time forward Will Minson last weekend.

But Hird warned mis-matches on paper did not always play out on-field and any edge in attack would depend on midfield delivery.

"You can read too much into personnel, because you fall into the trap of saying 'This guy will beat that guy', footy doesn't work like that, so we'll wait and see what happens," Hird said.

The Tigers lost key forward Brad Miller to illness on Friday, with youngster Jayden Post included for his first game of the year.

Hird was pleased to be coaching his first Dreamtime game, having been introduced to Aboriginal culture by former teammates such as Michael Long and Gavin Wanganeen.

"The indigenous culture is one of the oldest in the world and I just think it's great that football can celebrate it and show how special it is."

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