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Francis' red hot start

Dinny Navaratnam  November 13, 2017 7:43 PM

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Aaron Francis breaks a tackle during Essendon's training session.

There was plenty to excite Essendon fans on day one of pre-season, none more than the promise shown by former No.6 draft pick Aaron Francis.

In a training drill, Francis was taken to ground, but it was only momentary reward for the tackler. The South Australian burst free, sprang to his feet, escaped another tackle and moved the footy on.

It was a sight to elate Bombers fans. Their highly touted prospect, who last month sought a return to his home state, has yet to deliver on his immense potential.

Alas, it was only day one of pre-season, rather than an actual game, but it was perhaps a sign of things to come.

There were similar promising signs everywhere.

The man drafted one spot before Francis – Darcy Parish, at No.5 in 2015 – looked bulked up. Andy McGrath was as cool and composed as ever and Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti was almost nonchalant in hitting targets with both his left and right boot.

Then there was the new man.

Adam Saad made his start in red and black, alongside other first-to-fourth-year players, and his customary dash and dare was evident in various ball movement drills.

At time his kicking was a little scruffy, so while the rest of his teammates trudged off the track after completing the first day of pre-season in 32-degree heat, Saad worked on his delivery.

The former Gold Coast Sun was not the only person to don a new uniform. James Kelly had a bib on, not because he was being split up for a drill as he had been accustomed to doing at AFL level since 2001, but because he has become a performance coach.

One to impress McGrath was Kobe Mutch. The midfielder has not played a game after being drafted at No.42 last year, but the NAB AFL Rising Star predicted the 19-year-old would break into the senior side soon enough.

"Kobe Mutch looks really fit this year too, so I think a debut is on the way for him," McGrath said.

The Bombers have bitter memories of how their season ended.

However, since being on the end of a 65-point belting at the hands of Sydney in an elimination final, they have bolstered their list with Saad, Jake Stringer and Devon Smith to renew optimism at the club.

It was a brutal loss, but from McGrath's perspective, it will be a driving force.

"We'll take that through pre-season and use that whenever things get hard, whenever we get a little bit lazy, we'll bring it back to how disciplined and how hard Sydney were, and just know that's the standard we need to meet," he said.