Hird asks Bombers for AFL lift-off

It’s only round 10 but the words “must-win” were exceptionally close to James Hird’s lips when considering the AFL date with Geelong on Saturday night.

The Bombers, who will be without captain Jobe Watson and Dustin Fletcher, share a 4-5 win-loss record with the Cats.

Hird said the time to improve that was now.

“The next two or three weeks are really important for our club in terms of this season,” he said.

“If you’ve got aspirations of making the finals and being successful in those finals, this is a game we need to play well at and hopefully win.”

Considering the other matches in that three-game bracket are West Coast in Perth and premiers Hawthorn, their Etihad date with the Cats looms as increasingly important.

It’s unfortunate timing then that Watson will be sidelined with a groin niggle.

Hird said he opted against risking his skipper after he incurred a similar pre-season injury.

“If we really wanted to push him we could play him but I don’t think it’s worth it,” he said.

“Obviously he’s our captain, our best midfielder, best player and has been for a long time.

“But the guys last year won a number of games without him in there.”

Watson’s absence also continues an unwanted streak held since his debut in round 13, 2003 against the Cats.

In 12 years, the 2012 Brownlow medallist hasn’t been part of a Bombers side to beat Geelong.

With Watson sidelined, Hird is looking to ruckman Tom Bellchambers to help the side increase their clearance output.

Only opponents Geelong have fewer clearances this season and Hird called on the ruckman to play his part.

“Tom would admit to himself he’s not playing as well as he would like, or as well as the team would like,” he said.

“We’re hoping for a big performance from him (on Saturday night) and we need one.

“We don’t expect him to have 20 possessions and kick five goals every week but we do expect him to impact the contest and give our midfielders first use of the ball.”

Hird was more generous on misfiring forward Jake Carlisle, who kicked one goal from six shots in the Bombers’ 13-point loss to Richmond last Saturday.

“If he had converted last week we would have been raving,” he said.

“He’s a young footballer that’s played a lot of football down back … he might be a 15-game AFL forward-line player.

“People underestimate how long it takes for the bigger guys to come along.”

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