Essendon coach James Hird is upbeat his side will keep up with AFL pacesetters Hawthorn on Sunday, saying lack of match fitness is no excuse.
The Bombers had 13 players fail to take part in a single pre-season fixture, as they awaited the AFL’s Anti-Doping Tribunal verdict.
It looked to be a factor in round one, when Sydney booted seven goals in the final quarter to reel in a 41-point deficit and prevail by two goals.
The Bombers failed to score in that fourth term.
Hird suggested on Saturday he wasn’t expecting a repeat against the reigning premiers at the MCG.
“We’ll be better than we were last week after a really tough game. We’ve had an eight-day break, so no excuses,” he said.
The Essendon icon thought it would be football, not fitness, that cost his charges the four points if they were unable to topple Hawthorn.
“I don’t think we can use that as an excuse,” Hird said.
“We’ve trained hard, had the one game. Do you need one, two or three? Is four too many? Who knows?
“We’re confident enough of our guys have had enough work and we’re confident we’ll run out the game.
“It won’t be because of fitness that we win or don’t win the game.”
Hawthorn started their bid for a third consecutive flag with a clinical 62-point victory on Easter Monday over Geelong.
Hird described the challenge they presented as “fun” in contrast to the club’s ASADA woes over the past two years.
“We aren’t scared of the game,” he said.
The Bombers haven’t defeated Hawthorn since 2010.
Few at Friday night’s function for Essendon’s 30th anniversary of back-to-back premierships over the Hawks would be happy with that trend.
“You look at those things on the outside, but we’re concentrating on getting the win,” Hird replied, when asked about the recent one-sided nature of the rivalry.
The match will feature two club debuts, with axed St Kilda defender James Gwilt and former Greater Western Sydney midfielder Jono O’Rourke running out for Essendon and Hawthorn respectively.
Coach Alastair Clarkson described former No.2 draft pick O’Rourke as a talented player who the Hawks had had their eye on for some time.
“We liked him as a junior but we couldn’t get access to those early picks in the draft,” Clarkson said.
Hird nominated “experience and steadiness” as Gwilt’s biggest assets.