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From rookies to regulars: Young Dons set to fill the breach

Footy Feed special: the Essendon verdict Matt Thompson wraps up one of the biggest days in the history of the AFL
Five-gamer Will Hams is the most experienced of Essendon's rookies set to be upgraded  - ${keywords}
Five-gamer Will Hams is the most experienced of Essendon's rookies set to be upgraded

ONLY one of the Essendon rookies thrust into the limelight by suspensions to a dozen of his teammates boasts AFL experience.

Courageous midfielder Will Hams played five senior games over three injury-riddled years before he was delisted at the end of last season and redrafted as a rookie.

But the door to senior football has been flung wide open for the 21-year-old and four other Bombers rookies after the Court of Arbitration for Sport handed out anti-doping bans that have wiped out 12 of their teammates for the entire 2016 season.

Hams, mature-age recruit Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti, developing ruckman Gach Nyuon, plus Jake Long and Tom Wallis, sons of former Dons champions, will step up to fill part of the breach – along with 10 'top-up' recruits – on the senior list.

What Essendon's round one team could look like

Irish category B rookie Conor McKenna – who played the final two matches last season –will not be automatically elevated alongside the Category A rookies, who were available for every other club to draft at the end of 2015.

However, the League is willing to discuss moving McKenna on to the senior list, should Essendon make that request.

An AFL spokesman said it's yet to be decided whether elevating McKenna would count as one of the 'top-up' players the Bombers are allowed to recruit for next season. 

A guide to Essendon's rookies for 2016 

Hams was delisted at the end of the 2015 season but given a reprieve on the rookie list. After his long injury battles, the courageous midfielder broke into Essendon's team for three games early last year. He spent the rest of the season in the VFL, but is a committed player at the club.

Draft history: 2013 NAB AFL Pre-Season Draft 1st round selection (Essendon) No.6 overall; 2016 Rookie Draft selection (Essendon) No.39

Essendon's contingent of unavailable senior players in the 2015 NAB Challenge saw the Bombers turn to Long for his first appearance in red and black. The son of Essendon champion Michael Long showed pace and smarts, but a broken thumb halted the wiry forward's progress through the middle of the season. 

Draft history: 2015 Rookie Draft selection (Essendon) No.47 

An improved running ability won over the Bombers when it came to taking on McDonald-Tipungwuti, who has developed a cult following in his three seasons with the club's VFL team. The small forward has electric pace and can make something out of nothing near goal.

Draft history: 2016 Rookie Draft selection (Essendon) No.22 

The Irishman surprised many with his rate of improvement in his first year in the AFL, winning senior selection at the end of the season. He kicked a goal in both of his senior games and is being groomed as a crafty small forward. The Gaelic footballer, from Tyrone in Northern Ireland, signed with the club as a Category B rookie at the end of 2014. 

Draft history: 2015 Rookie Draft International selection (Essendon) No.62

The All-Australian under-18 ruckman was overlooked at the NAB AFL Draft, but Essendon snapped him up with its first pick at the Rookie Draft. The Sudanese prospect improved his game markedly last season, showing his raw athleticism. He equalled Nic Naitanui’s record of 94cm in the relative running vertical jump at the Draft Combine.

Draft history: 2016 Rookie Draft selection (Essendon) No.4

The son of former Bomber and two-time premiership defender Dean Wallis joined the club under the father-son rookie rule. The midfielder has a nice left foot and sees the game unfold well. He averaged 18 disposals and four tackles in 18 games at TAC Cup level last season.

Draft history: 2016 Rookie Draft father-son selection (Essendon) No.54

Irish recruit Conor McKenna played the last two games of 2015. Picture: AFL Media