Essendon head of high performance Sean Murphy says he’s seen added drive from the players this pre-season as they strive to rectify a disappointing 2020.

While only the first to fourth-year Bombers were expected to begin pre-season two weeks before Christmas, most of the remaining players returned early in a signal of their intent.

Murphy said the early starters were reaping the benefits, with Essendon’s round one match against Hawthorn less than eight weeks away.

“We had close to 80 per cent of the squad (train before Christmas) who were here (in Melbourne) and could train. That says a lot for where the group’s at and what they’re trying to achieve this year,” Murphy said.

“They’re really motivated. We didn’t finish how we wanted to last year in a lot of aspects, but we came away really motivated to change. That was seen especially from that middle tier group who really want success and want to build from that.

“That two weeks was a really important block to launch into this post-Christmas period and into pre-season. The guys who came in pre-Christmas, you can see how much they’ve benefitted and stepped up on day one of 2021.”

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With a bigger off-season break than usual, Murphy worked closely with new senior coach Ben Rutten to devise individual programs that would best position the players for pre-season.

He said the players had embraced a crucial period away from the club.

“It was an interesting off-season period. We had close to 16 weeks off, which is quite an unusual period,” he said.

“That meant there was huge importance in the players taking ownership of the execution of the programs we’d put in place to ensure that when they came back for pre-season, we had the footies out and they were ready to go. We had quite high intensity training from the get go.”

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While admitting it was “hard to single out players”, Murphy said a handful of Bombers in particular had caught his eye on the track.

“Last year, Langford was one who took a step up, and he’s taken another step in his running capabilities,” he said.

“McGrath, Ridley and that middle tier group have really stepped up in terms of their training intensity. The way they’ve presented, they’re just ready to train and go about it.

“Big ‘Bryza’ (Nick Bryan) has come back in ripping shape. Ned Cahill has taken another huge step, and I think his relationship with Andrew McGrath has certainly helped him blossom. There’s been a fast track there.

“In the older category, I’ve been really impressed with ‘Hooksy’ (Cale Hooker). The way he’s presented back, he’s almost a different athlete. His body shape and the way he’s attacking his training have been really impressive, and I’d certainly throw in some of the other older guys who have done that as well.”

Veteran Cale Hooker is enjoying a strong pre-season. (Photo: AFL Photos)

With pre-season set to heat up over the coming weeks, Essendon is awaiting its schedule for its first competitive hitouts, after the AFL yesterday decided to revise the AAMI Community Series fixture to reduce travel ahead of the season.

The Bombers were originally slated to face Geelong (GMHBA Stadium, February 18) and Greater Western Sydney (Manuka Oval, March 5).