Essendon might be heading into Saturday’s elimination final against Sydney at the SCG with nine finals debutants, but Bombers coach John Worsfold is not concerned by the gaping chasm in finals experience his side is conceding to the Swans.
Sydney’s line-up (224) has a whopping 164 more finals games’ experience than Essendon’s (60), with just two September novices running out in red and white.
Swans trio Jarrad McVeigh (25), Lance Franklin (21) and Dan Hannebery (19) combined have more finals experience than the named Bomber line-up. Veterans James Kelly (22) and Brendon Goddard (17) account for more than half of the Essendon’s finals experience.
Worsfold said his team had to “grow up” eventually and Saturday provided the perfect opportunity.
“I’d rather it [have nine finals rookies] be this year than next year which would mean we weren’t playing finals [this year],” Worsfold said at Tullamarine on Friday morning.
“So at some point you’ve got to grow up and they all said they want to play finals and now [they have] a great opportunity.”
Worsfold is no stranger to finals, having played in 21 with West Coast, including captaining two premierships, and coached the Eagles in 17, including the 2006 flag.
“That’s a bit of an unknown thing as well but it is nice that I’m not a rookie coach going into finals so you’re just aware of not to overdo things,” he said.
“We haven’t changed too much, we’ve just been preparing as normal but we are also conscious of it’s a great achievement for the boys to have qualified to play finals and our focus is now clearly on how we want to play.”
Worsfold expected his team to not only embrace the occasion but also the step-up in intensity that came with finals footy.
One player who won’t feature in Essendon’s line-up is key forward Cale Hooker, who failed to overcome a leg injury.
Worsfold was optimistic Hooker would be fit to play next week if the Bombers defeated Sydney.
“Basically he’s got to be pain-free in any running he’s doing and he hasn’t quite got to that point yet,” Worsfold said.
“He’s missed a couple of games this year, so obviously it means our structure is a little bit different but not massively.”
Worsfold said he thought about bringing in Shaun McKernan for Hooker, but opted against it.
Essendon regain Michael Hurley (calf) and Orazio Fantasia (hamstring) and Worsfold is confident both players are fit and raring to go.
The Bombers expect 10,000 of their fans to attend the sold-out match and Worsfold said it meant a lot to them to see their side back in finals after a tumultuous four years as a result of the drugs saga.
“They’ve been awesome,” Worsfold said of the fans.
The Essendon players were put through their final paces at Tullamarine on Friday morning in front of a few hundred diehard fans who bid their heroes farewell before their trip up to Sydney.