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'I certainly have a lot to prove': Cooney's final test looms

AFL 2016 Portraits - Essendon
Adam Cooney is desperate to atone for a poor first season as a Bomber
We went out for dinner and I think there were guys at the table from seven different clubs
Adam Cooney

ADAM Cooney doesn't need reminding that last season, his first at Essendon after 11 at the Western Bulldogs, didn't pan out the way he had planned or hoped. 

"It was really disappointing. It was the least amount of games I've ever played in a season," Cooney told AFL.com.au.

"I did a hamstring in round three, came back after about four weeks and then did my other hamstring and missed a few more weeks. I came back in, played a few more games, got reported and suspended, the coach left and then I had surgery on my ankle. It wasn't a great year."

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That assessment could be leveled at most at Essendon, given the club finished in 15th position on the ladder and plummeted under the weight of the on-going supplements saga. 

But for Cooney, as the club's high profile recruit from the Dogs, it was exactly how he didn't want 2015 to eventuate. He had come to the Bombers confident in his body, but managed just 11 games (which beat 13 in 2011 as his lowest tally of any single season). 

The 30-year-old knows many will be expecting more of him in 2016, particularly as Essendon embarks on an unprecedented challenge with a dozen of its most senior players suspended. 

"There was a reason why I came to Essendon and a reason Essendon wanted me to go there, so I certainly do have a lot to prove," Cooney said.

"I played a lot of years at the Bulldogs but Essendon supporters don't really care too much about that.

"They want to see me out there playing well and helping out our young guys. I'm pretty keen to show the Essendon supporters and our coaches that I've still got a lot to offer."

Cooney has had a closely managed pre-season to ensure his best is on show more in 2016. After his ankle surgery, he did little but run laps in the lead-up to the club's Christmas break. Last year he broke into peak fitness by January and then broke down; this season, the club's fitness staff have taken a more steady approach. 

"We've structured my pre-season a little differently to make it more of a gradual build-up leading to round one and hopefully the body will hold up a bit better than it did last year," he said.

"Fitness wise I'm feeling about the same as I did last year which is good, but hopefully I'm peaking more at the right time, rather than too early."

But Cooney is undecided if he might have just completed the final pre-season of his career. The 2008 Brownlow medallist's two-year deal with the Dons expires at the end of this season, and he admits this could be his last year in the AFL.   

"I'm not too sure about that one. I'll see how I'm playing this year," Cooney said.

"If I have a reasonably good year and play some good footy and I'm not holding up a young guy's position in the team then I'd probably look at playing on. But I'd want to be playing pretty well that's for sure."

The task is a little more complicated for Cooney and the Bombers this season, however, as they start clear favourites to claim the wooden spoon. The immediate impact of the Court of Arbitration for Sport's decision to ban 12 Bombers was brutal, but Cooney said gradually the mood had lifted.

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"The best way to describe [the feeling after the decision] was that the guys were just sad. I certainly was anyway. There was a really flat feeling that a lot of my mates were going through some hard times and you couldn't really be there to support them because we were at training," he said.

"We didn't really have too long to wrap our heads around what was going to happen."

Since then the Bombers have recruited 10 experienced top-up players and kept calm under the measured approach from new coach John Worsfold. Essendon faces Gold Coast on Saturday to open its season and Cooney is confident its mix of senior pick-ups and emerging youth will be competitive.

"We went over to Perth to play West Coast and went out for dinner and I think there were guys at the table from seven different clubs. I looked around and said '18 months ago, would you have picked that we'd be here?' It's a strange situation but it's been really good to have these experienced players at the club," Cooney said. 

"The mood's pretty positive, as you'd want it to be going into round one. You don't want to be down in the dumps when you haven't even played a game yet and a lot of our young guys have had really great pre-seasons which is a real positive."