Bombers hope for AFL bye blessing - Sports News - Fanatics - the world's biggest events

Bombers hope for AFL bye blessing

By Roger Vaughan 05/09/2011 08:32:42 PM Comments (0)

The curse of the bye through this AFL season might become a September blessing for elimination finalists Essendon.

A feature of the 17-club season is that sides have usually struggled in the game immediately after their week off.

But from the moment they received the draw, Essendon saw their round-24 break as a potential benefit if they could return to the top eight.

Now the Bombers come off that break to meet arch-rivals Carlton on Sunday in an elimination final that will pack the MCG.

Bombers coach James Hird noted on Monday that the winners of the qualifying finals are seen to gain a big advantage, precisely because they gain a week off ahead of the preliminary finals.

"There's no doubt later in the year, having a week off certainly helps," Hird said.

"Your bodies need a freshen up - the sharpness should be there, there should be everything to play for.

"We spoke to the players at the start of the year ... that if we were fortunate enough to make the finals, having that bye in round 24 should give them a chance to freshen up."

Hird also noted that Essendon had played for 13-straight weeks before last weekend's bye.

"But the first 10 minutes of the game on Sunday will tell us whether we've used that two-week spell well or not," he added.

Carlton will start favourites after finishing fifth and pounding Essendon by 74 points in round 18.

Hird wants his team to play much more like round four, when they drew with the Blues despite season-ending knee injuries to Jason Winderlich and Courtenay Dempsey.

"We won't look too much (at) that second half (in round 18) - the round-four game against Carlton and the way we defended in that game was a lot better than how we defended ... in round 18," Hird said.

"We'll look to enhance our defence a bit more, particularly against their small forwards.

"Their small forwards made us look a bit silly at times."

Indeed, Essendon's defence has become a concern again for Hird in the second half of the season.

"There's no doubt earlier in the year we were defending as a team better than we have in the last six weeks," he said.

"It's an area we've worked on for the last few weeks and we hope to get some results on Sunday."

Essendon will regain veteran defender Dustin Fletcher for the elimination final.

Bombers captain Jobe Watson said they are a much better team than their last finals series two years ago, when they scraped into eighth place and suffered a thrashing from Adelaide.

"This time around, if you look at the draw we had ... it was rated one of the toughest (in) the league," he said.

But Watson will be more careful with what he says to his teammates before they run out onto the ground for this final.

"I said to the guys before the (Adelaide) game, 'play this game as if it's the last one you'll ever play'," he said.

"I don't think I will be using that line again."

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