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Bomber in Rising Star race after early struggles

Aaron Francis has been restricted to just nine games in three seasons with the Bombers - AFL,Essendon Bombers,Aaron Francis,Rising Star
Aaron Francis has been restricted to just nine games in three seasons with the Bombers

AARON Francis has pledged his football future to Essendon after a difficult season that started with him taking personal leave to deal with a mental health issue.

In a revealing interview, the round 22 NAB AFL Rising Star nominee also admitted he made the wrong call last year to unsuccessfully request a trade home to South Australia.

Francis, 21, played his fourth straight game for the Bombers on Friday night – and ninth overall since being the No.6 draft pick in 2015 – and produced comfortably his best performance.

RISING STAR Check out all the nominees

Opposed regularly to Richmond premiership stars Josh Caddy and Dustin Martin, six of the 191cm defender's eight marks were intercepts and four were contested.

The fact Francis' performance came on the Friday night stage made it a more visible triumph and showed how far he had come, although a brave Essendon effort fell just short.

The Bombers announced in February he would spend an indefinite period away from the club, and he eventually resumed a month later after doing some part-time work and basketball coaching.

"Looking back, it's definitely been the best thing for me," Francis told AFL.com.au.

"I came back and spoke in front of the playing group about my struggles and where I've come from. Ever since that, it's been quite perfect.

"All the players, my teammates around me, have been very supportive, along with certain staff members."

Francis also appreciated the goodwill from Essendon fans, who led the campaign for him to return to the senior side after an extended run of strong form in the VFL.

He is now keen to repay the faith at Tullamarine, with the two-year contract extension he signed in September 2016 tying him to the Bombers until the end of next season.

"I see my future at Essendon. I made a decision (to request a trade) at the end of last year when I was in a pretty rough period in my life," Francis said.

"It was a decision I didn't want to make, and probably the wrong one – I just got a little bit scared – but I've spoken to the right people here and I've always wanted to stay at Essendon.

"There's been a mountain of support (for me), just putting things in place that will help me with the issues I've been through.

"It was all pretty much to make myself be happy again and to love being back at the club, which eventually helped my football a lot."

 

The West Adelaide product was thrilled to be recognised in this year's Rising Star class, particularly after all he's been through.

"It was probably my best game so far, which is really pleasing, but obviously we didn't win – it would have felt a lot nicer if we did," he said.

"It was a real learning curve playing on guys like Dustin Martin and Josh Caddy.

"They're the best and the standard you look to set for yourself, so it's always a good learning curve against those better players."

Francis watched others thrive, including top-10 draft peers Callum Mills and Clayton Oliver and fellow high selections Charlie Curnow, Daniel Rioli and Ryan Burton, as he battled away in the VFL.

He remains aware of his draft standing and hasn't lost any confidence in his ability to match it with the AFL's best.

"I always put a lot of pressure on myself as a kid and put a lot of pressure on myself to perform when I first entered the AFL," Francis said.

"It didn't make me feel too great when I wasn't achieving those marks, but now I feel like my form's pretty consistent, but there are a lot of things away from football that help (my mindset) much more.

"I see a lot of players from my draft doing really well, but I keep telling myself it will take me a bit longer with my experience.

"I've been injured a lot, it's been tough and I've been through a lot mentally as well, which set me back quite a bit, but it's all looking forward from here."