Bombers optimistic McKenna will feature in round one

For all the doom and gloom that is currently surrounding Essendon, assistant coach Mark Harvey is optimistic that the Bombers will field close to a full-strength team in round one that includes Conor McKenna.

McKenna flew back to his native Ireland a fortnight ago due to "homesickness and family-related reasons", placing his immediate future at Essendon in doubt at the time.

Conor McKenna has been continuing his pre-season training while overseas, according to Mark Harvey, who is confident the Irishman will be right for round one.Credit:AAP

However, Harvey expected the dashing defender to return to Melbourne "maybe early next week" and was hopeful that McKenna would be joined in Essendon's season opener by Dyson Heppell (foot), Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti (calf), Orazio Fantasia (hip), Michael Hurley (shoulder), Cale Hooker (hip), Tom Bellchambers (knee) and David Zaharakis (ankle), who have all had injury-interrupted pre-seasons.

"We've been in constant contact, the club, with Conor over the period of time that he's been away, hope he's enjoying himself and relaxing," Harvey said at Tullamarine on Tuesday.

"We'd like to think that he comes back pretty soon and hopefully we can have him available for selection too. It's looking promising and our support staff have done an enormous job with this.

"He's done the majority of pre-season [training] and he's still training over there. Conor is a guy that comes up really quick … so I would say that Conor, pending when he does come back, that he'll be available for round one."

Harvey was just as positive about the prospect of Heppell, Hooker, Bellchambers and Zaharakis facing Fremantle on March 21.

"What people need to understand is once players have been around for a [long] period of time, like Zaharakis and Bellchambers and Hooker, they know how to get themselves right pretty quick," Harvey said.

"They're working as hard as they can in cross-training to strengthen the areas where they've had operations.

"In the next three weeks we get a chance to time our list and get them ready for round one and I think we'll be in a good situation come Fremantle."

The Bombers' next pre-season hitout is a practice match against West Coast in Perth on Thursday evening.

Harvey confirmed Devon Smith would face the Eagles after missing most of last year due to a serious knee injury, while he anticipated Hurley would play 70 to 80 per cent game time.

Merrett and Zaharakis are also expected to build on the half of footy they played against Melbourne’s ‘B team’ last Friday.

Patrick Ambrose (knee) became the latest addition to Essendon's growing injury list during that tune-up at Casey Fields, but Harvey saw the key defender's absence as a chance to see how good the club's depth was.

The assistant coach anticipated some of the Bombers' newest draftees would feature against West Coast.

Injuries aside, the other big story emanating from Tullamarine in the off-season was the omission of Merrett from the leadership group, despite serving as vice-captain for the previous three years.

However, Harvey said the reigning best-and-fairest was coping with his axing "absolutely brilliantly" and that the club had discussed with him the reasons why he was overlooked in 2020.

"I would expect Zach just to play the way that he normally plays, and you wouldn't know it necessarily that that's happened and that's a credit to his character … he's taken it on the chin," Harvey said.

"In his mind he's moved on. He's more determined than ever as a player to get this group where it needs to get to and I'm sure you'll see Zach at the forefront of a lot of the things we do."

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