Essendon head of strength and conditioning Sean Murphy says the Bombers’ list health is in a bright spot ahead of the season restart, with more than 40 players hitting the track on Tuesday.
Returning to contact training for the first time in eight weeks after the COVID-19 lockdown, Tuesday's session had just three absentees - Irish trio Conor McKenna, Cian McBride and Ross McQuillan, who remain in a mandatory 14-day quarantine period after returning from overseas.
Forward Joe Daniher (groin) was restricted to running laps, while first-year players Lachlan Johnson (ACL) and Harrison Jones (foot) remain on light duties.
Key talls Cale Hooker, James Stewart and Patrick Ambrose have returned to full training, while captain Dyson Heppell (foot) and emerging ruckman Sam Draper (ACL) are slowly reintegrating into it.
Murphy said a near-full group was a testament to the players’ diligence during a unique and challenging period.
“The seven weeks away have benefitted half a dozen boys, allowing us to get them back on the track,” Murphy said on Working Through It on Wednesday.
“In terms of our list, we’re looking healthier and that brought more energy to our session yesterday.
“The boys have done the work over the break. We do our body composition measures and everyone’s come back in a similar condition to how they’ve left.
"When we got back, we had a chat with them and screened them individually. They were open and honest about their preparation – some had high limitations in terms of strength equipment or access to ovals.
“That was our first port of call – to get that information from them and then start to individualise their programs into this next little phase. So far we’ve been able to get some good loads into them.
“We had some guys who had access to proper gyms and full-on weights. Some of them have actually rocked up with new PBs in squats and bench presses. We had our testing the other day where we did just an upper body testing session, and we had about six PBs, so physically they’ve rocked up very well.”
Essendon has been considered in its preparation for the restart, with a short turnaround until its round two match against Sydney on June 14.
The early impact of the COVID-19 lockdown was evident during the return of German soccer league the Bundesliga last week, with an investigation revealing the injury rate had spiked by more than three times the usual number.
But Murphy said he was confident a meticulous approach would lessen the Bombers’ chances of soft-tissue injuries.
“One of our instructions over the break was to run at speed. The stuff in the gym is really important, but if you’re not running at speed, from a physical standpoint and integrating back into your program, that’s one of the biggest ones (risks) for us,” he said.
“The boys executed that really well and that’s allowed us to step back on the track.
“We haven’t gone with the ego and try to get them back (to usual loads). If they’ve only been squatting 40 or 50 kilos, we’re not trying to get them to squat 150 kilos. We have a method to build them up over these next couple of weeks, and that’s really important so that they don’t miss sessions on the track.
“The footy is the most important side of it, and the accessories around that like weights, we’ve just got to individualise that to get them back to what they were lifting before the break.”
The Bombers will have two five-day breaks and a six-day break between their matches against Sydney (June 14), Melbourne (June 21), Carlton (June 27) and Collingwood (July 3).
Murphy said shortened quarters during those games – as was the case in round one – would be invaluable in keeping players fresh and available for selection.
“In terms of numbers, it (round one) was genuinely 20 per cent less in terms of loads,” he said.
“We had a couple of players who only played 65 minutes because of their rotation, so the comments from the players is that the training sessions over the pre-season and during this period have been more challenging than the game from a physiology point of view.
“I feel like it’s (shortened quarters) going to help some players, particularly those who have had limited preparations. It may assist some of our guys coming back to play the game, and it’s going to help a lot of players bounce back."
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