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Young Don set for new role

"He's starting to really excel in the midfield"

Emerging Essendon youngster Andrew McGrath is ready for a full-time midfield role next season according to Bombers assistant coach Mark Harvey. 

McGrath pieced together a brilliant debut season in 2017, playing 21 games on his way to claiming the NAB AFL Rising Star award after being the club's first ever No.1 draft pick.

The 19-year-old's pace, smarts and poise stood out as he shut down some of the competition's best small forwards and provided excellent rebound. 

However, Harvey, who looks after Essendon's defence, says he doesn't expect to again have McGrath at his disposal next year. 

"He's starting to really excel in the midfield. We're starting to see his stoppage craft really evolve. I'm not sure if we really will see him too much back there (in defence) but I've told him he can still talk to defenders during play though. There's still that relationship that he's got with them," he said on Tuesday. 

"I think [he's ready to become a full-time midfielder]. He's a serious talent. We saw what he did in his first year and he played with great composure and he's really good in close and makes quick decisions. 

"He won't be left wanting." 

Another player Harvey has lost from his backline group in recent years is Cale Hooker, who pushed forward last season in a permanent role and booted 41 goals. 

The Bombers are focusing heavily on reducing the scores they conceded last season in a bid to push up the ladder next season, but Harvey says Hooker is slated to again be an option in attack.

The 29-year-old, however, is still recovering from the serious leg injury that surfaced late in the home and away season and saw him miss the Bombers' elimination final loss to Sydney. 

"Most of the guys, like [Michael] Hurley, Joe Daniher and [Dyson] Heppell, who have had post-season injuries, they will all be back in January," he said. 

"We find these three-and-a-half weeks before Christmas builds a platform and even though those guys haven't been physically training, they'll have two months of serious training.

"They have done a lot of cross training and they won't be too far off the mark."

Harvey said the Bombers' smashing at the hands of the Swans in that finals appearance was partly behind the coaches' implementation of more brutal training in the early parts of this pre-season.

"They've certainly been put through the bullring. Our blokes have been training really hard, particularly physically, so they'll be looking for the break," Harvey said. 

"That's the main difference, that we've put a lot more emphasis on our physicality and our pressure.

"That's been the main focus and moving into January and February hopefully we start to see that play out in our game situations." 

Essendon players will break from training this week before returning on January 5.