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No easy ride for Ryder: Paddy left out of blockbuster

Paddy Ryder has missed out on selection for Essendon, following the completion of his three match suspension - ${keywords}
Paddy Ryder has missed out on selection for Essendon, following the completion of his three match suspension
ESSENDON have surprisingly opted not to bring back ruck-forward Paddy Ryder but still made a raft of changes for their top-of-the-ladder AFL clash with Geelong at Etihad Stadium on Friday night.

Coach James Hird says Ryder, available after a three-week suspension, misses out with forward Scott Gumbleton preferred after his quality recent form.

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"Scott's been in excellent form and we didn't think it was right to play another tall," Hird told the club website on Thursday night.

"Unfortunately when you go out of the team for three weeks, it's hard to get back in."

Midfielder Brent Stanton has also missed out with a groin injury sustained last weekend.

But Dustin Fletcher, Dyson Heppell, Jake Carlisle, Michael Hurley and Jason Winderlich all return from injury and soreness, with utility Nathan Lovett-Murray also added to the 22 for the clash of the competition's two remaining unbeaten teams.

Hird believes making six changes is feasible, despite the importance of the match.

"I think it's the quality of the individuals and how many weeks they've missed," Hird said at a media conference earlier on Thursday.

"A lot of the guys we could potentially bring in have played a lot of football with each other.

"They're very senior players, they're very good players."

Geelong have had the wood on the Bombers in recent encounters - their most recent a 67-point thumping late last season at Etihad Stadium.

But both teams go into the match unbeaten in their opening six games, with Essendon setting aside off-field issues to play some of their best football in Hird's three seasons in charge.

"It's a good opportunity for us to play against the best team in the competition for the last six or seven years ... Geelong's one of the great teams of all time," Hird said.

"They beat us quite convincingly last year - beat us up around the ball.

"That's a big challenge for our players ... if we do have a good game, play the way we expect to play, maybe then it means we have matured as a team to a certain extent."