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Hibberd eyes form turnaround as Dons plug midfield gaps

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JULY 11: Michael Hibberd of the Bombers kicks the ball during the 2015 AFL round 15 match between the Essendon Bombers and the Melbourne Demons at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, Melbourne, Australia on July 11, 2015. (Photo by Darrian Traynor/AFL Media)
Michael Hibberd says he believes his attacking play is returning after an early-season slump
I've been a little bit disappointed in how I've played most of the year
Michael Hibberd

MICHAEL Hibberd is working to get back to his best form as the season hits its last two months, after admitting he has not been able to reach his peak so far in 2015.

The Essendon defender, who emerged as one of the competition's most damaging half-backs in recent seasons with his run and expertise in the air, has struggled to have the same influence this year. 

Clubs have limited his ability to intercept marks and propel Essendon out of the backline, which in turn has halted the Bombers' ball movement. But Hibberd, who finished fourth in the club's Crichton Medal last year, feels the wheel is turning, and wants to end the season better form than he started it.

"I've had a few good seasons leading up to this one and I've been a bit down, especially in the first half of the year. The last few weeks I'm starting to get a few things back in my game which I think dropped off, but it's been pretty inconsistent like the team," he told AFL.com.au this week.

"I've been a little bit disappointed in how I've played most of the year, but I'd like to think the second half of the year is going to be all on the up.

"I still feel like my attacking game's there, but the intercept marks and those things haven't been there as much, so I've worked on that a lot and I'm starting to think it's clicking now. Hopefully for the rest of the season it keeps getting better."

His role has been tweaked in recent weeks, with more time spent in the midfield. In the Bombers' round 14 loss to St Kilda he spent all the second half playing as a midfielder, while last week in their win over Melbourne, Hibberd started there before shifting into defence.

Coach James Hird has been searching for ways to cover the absence of injured midfielders David Myers and Heath Hocking throughout the season, and with captain Jobe Watson also out for the remainder of the year, Hibberd expects to spend some more time up the ground.

"I'm probably better suited as a midfielder when the game's opened up late rather than when it's real nitty gritty contested footy. I think I'm better as a backman, but if I can go into the midfield, that's an extra string in my bow," he said.

The Bombers' win over Melbourne broke a five-game losing streak, and a run of six losses from their seven games since the World Anti-Doping Agency announced it would appeal the AFL Anti-Doping Tribunal's decision to clear the 34 past and present players who had infraction notices.

Hird has conceded another season disrupted by the saga has affected the players, and been a contributing factor to their dip in form after a strong start to the year. But Hibberd said it didn't account for his struggle to recapture his best.

"I can't really use that as an excuse. When you run out onto the field you're not thinking about those things. It's been stressful at times over the last few years, but to use that as an excuse is poor form in football. It'd be a bit of a cop-out," Hibberd said.

"We're trying to do our best to play good footy and when we're out on the training track we don't think about those things, and we especially don't think about them when we're out on the field."

Spirits were lifted last week with the nine-point victory over the Demons, with 12 of the Bombers who featured that day having not played more than 40 games.  

Hibberd was impressed by Shaun Edwards, who kicked two goals and excited in attack, thought Marty Gleeson gave some run off half-back and was pleased for Joe Daniher, whose accurate kicking in front of goal steered the Bombers to the win.

He has also been wowed by Zach Merrett all year, and thinks the second-year midfielder would be vying for the club's best and fairest alongside star defender Michael Hurley.

"For a young kid to come in and be as physical, skillful and smart as he is, it's unbelievable. He's got a bright future ahead of him and it wouldn't surprise me if he or 'Hurls' were up there. It's definitely one of those two," Hibberd said.

"It just shows we have a bright future at the club."