Essendon forward Joe Daniher will make his long-awaited return to AFL football against Hawthorn at the Adelaide Oval on Thursday evening.
Bombers coach John Worsfold confirmed Daniher would play against the Hawks, provided he gets through a light training session on Wednesday morning.
Daniher, 26, hasn’t played since round nine 2019 due to recurring groin issues and unsuccessfully sought a trade to Sydney at the end of last season.
“We’re really excited that Joe’s done the work to be available, ready to step back up and play some footy – which is great for Joe, great for us (and) great for footy,” Worsfold told reporters on Wednesday
Worsfold said Daniher would have been ready to play earlier, if not for a minor calf strain.
Given the limited nature of scratch matches this year, Essendon opted to bring him straight back into their AFL side after building his loads through training.
Worsfold said he hadn’t directly spoken to restricted free agent Daniher about re-signing but emphasised there was “no panic” at Essendon’s end.
“Obviously Joe knows the club wants him to stay. We’d love him to play out his whole career at the Essendon footy club,” he said.
“But there’s going to be a new coach next year, and those discussions are going to be more heavily involved with Ben (Rutten) and our list management group going forward.
“But obviously it rests with Joe’s desires mainly.”
Cale Hooker and ruckman Andrew Phillips have also been included, a fit Conor McKenna has been left out of the team and Aaron Francis is injured.
Bombers ruckmen Tom Bellchambers (injured) and Sam Draper (managed) drop out of the side.
In another looming boost to go with Daniher’s inclusion, skipper Dyson Heppell could return in coming weeks.
“Joe’s been working his backside off to get himself back to reignite his footy career,” Worsfold said.
“So we’re just excited about that, and Dyson, he’s just itching to be back out there playing with the guys.
“So whether that’s (in) another two or three games we don’t know yet – we’ll just keep progressing him.”
Hawthorn coach Alastair Clarkson said Daniher’s inclusion wouldn’t affect his team’s approach.
“We just need to go about the way that we play and whether Joe’s playing or not, that shouldn’t have really any bearing on the way that we play, albeit we know the quality of him at his very, very best,” Clarkson said.
“The difficulty will be for both them and us (in) trying to determine whether he can bring his best in this particular game.
“But we do know that his best is capable of being a matchwinner.”
Key Hawks forward Jack Gunston has recovered from a back injury while ruckman Jon Ceglar (toe) also returns.
Captain Ben Stratton and star veteran Shaun Burgoyne have been rested, while running defender Jarman Impey is injured.