Essendon pre-season injury crisis deepens
Essendon's mounting injury curse has claimed another victim with promising young key forward Noah Gown suffering another serious foot problem.
The second-year swingman fractured his foot late in the VFL season this year and, in another major blow, suffered a re-occurrence of the same injury at training on Monday.
Gown, a 194cm goalkicker, crumpled to the turf and was helped from the ground for immediate treatment.
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While a recovery timetable is still unclear, Gown is certain to miss a significant chunk of the pre-season.
The club is considering surgical options.
Football manager Dan Richardson said it was unfortunate setback for the emerging big man.
"It is a recurrence of the same foot fracture he had last year," Richardson said.
"He hurt it at training during the week.
"He is having it assessed by a specialist as we speak whether it needs another surgical option or just further rest.
"It is a bit of a setback for him, but he is a good lad and he will be back."
Gown played 12 VFL games this year but has shown promising signs in attack, averaging 1.7 goals, 5.6 marks and 6.1 scoring involvements a game in the state league this year.
It is another blow for a club which has one of the competition's longest injury lists heading into Ben Rutten's first season in charge.
Essendon last week revealed it has only 23 fit players in full training with a long list of stars still recovering from in-season or post-season surgery.
They include star midfielder Dyson Heppell (left foot), centre half back Michael Hurley (shoulder), damaging playmaker David Zaharakis (ankle), speedster Orazio Fantasia (hip), key forward Joe Daniher (groin) and backmen Matt Guelfi (knee) and Marty Gleeson (ankle).
Veteran defender Cale Hooker also battled some back soreness throughout the year, while emerging ruckman Sam Draper is coming off a full knee reconstruction.
It means a big group of key players could be playing catch-up with their fitness as they look to return to full training in the new year.
Daniher is still on light duties as he attempts to ramp up his training and his running post-Christmas and push for selection early in the season.
The lengthy injury list is a major concern for the club as it strives to return to the eight and win its first final since 2004 under Rutten next year.
The Bombers have overhauled its medical and fitness departments in the wake of an injury-riddled season to help correct the issue for next year.
They poached Sean Murphy from Hawthorn to head up the fitness department and separately, secured new coaches Blake Caracella (Richmond) and Leigh Tudor (North Melbourne).
Richardson said the club hoped to see improvement in its player availability for next season.
"We have restructured that department a little bit because there is no doubt having your best players available … and the fitness and conditioning levels is a really important focus for us going into next year," Richardson said.
The Bombers will be trying to avoid another slow start after copping a 72-point loss to Greater Western Sydney and an 11-point defeat to St Kilda to start the 2019 season.
Richardson said the Bombers wanted to eliminate the lapses which cost it this year.
"Our good footy is really good but there was too big a gap between our best and worst,"
"So we would like to see a team that plays a more consistent brand of footy and a brand that stacks up and means we can perform really well in finals, (because) ultimately, we are there to win premierships.
"So a brand that stacks up to that sort of pressure is really important."
Heppell is also still on a modified program after surgery to fix a growth plate problem which hampered him in the back half of the season.
The skipper said he was progressing well.
"We are on schedule at the moment and I saw the surgeon, Geoffrey Tymms, the other day - he is a bit of a guru - and he said it is progressing really well," Heppell said.
"I'm not quite up to full running loads yet, so hopefully (he can) progress that over the next week, and building into Christmas and (be) back (training) with the full squad mid to late January."
Heppell said he was encouraged by the signs from the young players including No. 1 draft pick Andrew McGrath.
"We have got quite an experienced crew in the rehab group," Heppell said.
"It is going to be an awesome chance for the younger guys to really show their leadership and take control of the training into Christmas. The general vibe about the club has been outstanding."