ESSENDON is hoping for important pair Sam Draper and Jake Stringer to be back into full training at the start of 2024 after both had injury-hit ends to this season.
Draper battled a groin injury in the second half of the year, playing just one game after round 13 as the Bombers sunk down the ladder and out of finals contention.
The ruckman is a pivotal part of the Bombers' hopes, with the club's head of performance Daniel McPherson saying Draper would be taking a cautious approach during the start of the off-season.
"This time of the year it's fairly conservative given there's a longer timeframe. We'll just keep monitoring that. He's doing little bits and pieces but he's not doing a whole heap yet so the plan will be to get him back running again shortly and progress him and lift that up leading into Christmas and then hopefully he's in main training again by January," McPherson told AFL.com.au.
"That's the plan at this stage. It's been annoying because it's just been hanging around since the middle of the season. For a guy who plays in that position where you need a bit of power and jumping, it makes it difficult."
Stringer had foot surgery ahead of the Bombers' final game, having struggled through his return the previous week in Essendon's belting at the hands of Greater Western Sydney.
The Bombers also expect the forward to be in full training again at the start of the new year.
"Sometimes he felt really good at training and then other days it crept up on him really quickly. It just got to the point where we rolled the dice with him in the GWS Giants game up there and he was quite sore post that game. Once that game snuffed out our finals chances we chucked him straight in to get surgery after that game," he said.
Stringer was one of three surgeries for the Bombers heading into the off-season, with youngster Tex Wanganeen undergoing an operation on a navicular injury in his foot in the latter stages of the campaign. It is the same navicular he has previously injured and will see him spend an extended period on the sidelines over the summer and pre-season.
Defender Jayden Laverde also underwent wrist surgery recently which was to combat some ongoing pain that had been surfacing after doing weights at the conclusion of Essendon's year.
"He got that done a couple of weeks ago. He'll obviously be able to do a heap of running and then his return date to full training is not known just yet but he'll be back running pretty quickly," McPherson said. "It was more a discomfort thing than a significant injury."
Jordan Ridley (quad) and Jye Caldwell (hip) missed the Bombers' end to the season but will be ready for the start of the pre-season, as will Zach Reid, who had another hamstring setback late in the year. The out-of-contract Massimo D'Ambrosio is also expected to be fit from his knee injury while Harrison Jones, who had a back stress fracture and an ankle reconstruction through the season, is tracking well.
"Harry Jones is going really well. He's been able to do a fair bit of work over the last few months so he'll be full steam ahead when they return," he said.
Peter Wright managed a plantar fascia injury in his foot towards the end of the season and although he will have a potentially modified start of the pre-season, that period is expected to be short, while Dylan Shiel will continue in his return from a nagging foot injury.
"He's a little bit similar to Draper in that we're pretty conservative at the moment given that it was something that was loitering. Expecting him to be back in modified training when they get back late November/early December and full training after Christmas," McPherson said.
The Bombers' one-to-fourth-year players will return to training on November 6, with the rest of the squad to be back at the Hangar on November 20. A group of around 15 Bombers will head for a training camp in Arizona, which has been driven by senior players Andrew McGrath, Kyle Langford and Ridley.
"A couple of them have done it previously so originally it was a group of five or six who had organised it and a few others got wind of it during the last week of the season and the first week of the off-season and a few more have jumped on," McPherson said.
"It's a great idea and a great way to spend their break."