Star Essendon defender Michael Hurley expects Thursday night's return to football to be an emotional moment for some of the returning Bombers.
Hurley is one of seven returning players selected in the Club's squad to face Collingwood at Etihad Stadium in the opening JLT Community Series match.
The other three – Cale Hooker (hamstring), Tom Bellchambers (knee) and Brent Stanton (groin) – trained in the modified group on Wednesday morning at Essendon's Tullamarine base while the playing squad went through a light session.
Hurley, who was an All Australian defender in 2015, said there have been some mixed emotions in the lead-up to the clash with the Magpies.
"I've had a few text messages the last couple of nights saying 'Are you excited or nervous?' It hasn't really felt like we're [about to] play a game, but I'm sure tomorrow afternoon it will," he said.
"I think [it will be emotional] to an extent, but once you're out there playing it gets forgotten about and you get caught up in the heat of the moment."
For Hurley it will mark the end of a 16-month stint out of Essendon colours, having not played since the Bombers' round 23 win over Collingwood in 2015.
The 26-year-old took a long time to consider whether he would return to the Bombers after his ban was lifted and was courted by several clubs, including the Western Bulldogs and Collingwood.
However in August he agreed to a contract extension with the Club that makes him a Bomber until at least the end of 2022.
An ankle injury at training earlier this month – after some niggles with his back when returning to the Club – threatened to stop his run to appear in the opening pre-season game. But with it now within reach, he said the Club was looking forward to starting its 2017 campaign.
"Once you've got the boots on and you're walking up the race onto the field, that's going to be a pretty exciting time. I think the boys will get together after it and reflect on the game," he said.
Hurley has spent chunks of his career at Essendon as a key forward, but with Hooker transitioning to a forward-50 role this season it appears Hurley's days of swinging into attack appear over.
It will give the Bombers a strong and steady backline group, with Hurley likely to play alongside Michael Hartley, Matt Dea and Mitch Brown at different stages in defence.
All three of those players will be new teammates for Hurley this season at Essendon, which has shed more than 20 players since the end of 2015 when the powerful and dominant defender last wore the red and black.
"There's a few guys I haven't played with, so that's exciting as well. It's like having half a new team. It'll be fun, it'll be a good learning experience," he said.