Aaron Francis says he’s leaning on his experienced Essendon teammates as he strives to take his game to new heights in 2020.
Entering 2019 with just 10 senior games to his name, the talented young tall solidified his spot in the Bombers’ defence last season, playing 17 matches and saving his best for last in the elimination final loss to West Coast.
His efforts were rewarded with a three-year contract extension in September, keeping Francis in the red and black until at least the end of 2022.
Having returned from the COVID-19 lockdown feeling “really good and strong”, the 22-year-old said he was ready to pick up from where he left off and put his new learnings into practice.
“I already had a lot of confidence in my ability, but probably the main one was playing 17 games and playing a consistent season. That was the goal that I had going into last season,” Francis said.
“To keep playing game after game and backing up my running numbers is the main goal this season.
“I did a lot of work with glute strengthening and other stuff (in pre-season) that some of the older guys have passed down their knowledge on. I’ve really taken on board what they’ve had to say and how they’ve kept their bodies going throughout pre-season, so I’m pretty grateful for that.
“Michael Hurley, Paddy Ambrose and Cale Hooker – those experienced key defenders have really given me knowledge out on the track on how to best use my body and strengths to impact the game.”
Francis is part of a talented half-back line, which includes emerging youngsters Jordan Ridley, Brandon Zerk-Thatcher and Mason Redman, the established Adam Saad and Conor McKenna and a fit-again Martin Gleeson.
The group is led by new defence coach James Kelly, who starred in a similar role during his playing days at Essendon.
Francis said he was thankful for Kelly’s expertise.
“He’s very calm and composed. He teaches me a lot about decisions with the ball. I’ve got a lot of work to do in not biting off too much with my kicking, which I like to do sometimes.
“He’s really good about being level-headed and calm about the decisions I’m making.”
Essendon will face Sydney at the SCG in round two on June 14, having defeated Fremantle in its season-opening clash on March 21.
With a full complement of defenders available for the trip north, Francis said competition for spots was hot, but he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“There’s a lot of guys out on the track ready to go. We’re tackling hard when we have contact days, so it’s going to be tight for spots.
“It (healthy list) makes training tough, which is good for our improvement. We know all our defenders can step up and play a role in our back six and seven, and I’m just hoping that one of those spots is mine.”