ESSENDON faces a tough task to make the finals after its 4-8 start to the season but its players are in "as good a headspace as they've been for a long time", coach James Hird says.
The Bombers were impressive in the first half of their 38-point loss to reigning premier Hawthorn at the MCG on Saturday, but were blown away in the third term when the Hawks piled on six goals to two.
The loss was Essendon's fourth in a row and its sixth from its past seven matches, its only win in that time coming against the Brisbane Lions.
After Saturday's loss the Bombers sit 13th on the ladder and will be three games outside the top eight if Adelaide or the Western Bulldogs win this weekend.
Hird acknowledges his team faces an uphill battle to make the finals but said the Dons' recent competitive performances against Hawthorn and a resurgent Richmond showed they could play well enough to make the eight.
And when asked about whether the players' ongoing fight to clear their names of anti-doping charges was adversely affecting their performances, Hird suggested his players had turned a mental corner.
"Our players are in a pretty good headspace and they were going into the game," he said after Saturday's loss.
"I think they were (in) as good a headspace as they've been for a long time and I think it showed in the way we played.
"A few things need to click for us and I think [they] are.
"But we're making it very difficult for ourselves (to make the finals) with the games we've won. We're going to have to get our skates on and start winning very quickly."
On Friday, the AFL Anti-Doping Tribunal imposed a lifetime ban on sports scientist Stephen Dank for the role he played in Essendon's 2011-12 supplements program.
Hird played a straight bat when asked about the club's sacked former employee.
"I haven't had time to look at it, I'd rather not talk about that," he said.
Essendon could be strengthened for its clash against St Kilda next round by the return of David Zaharakis (ankle) and Heath Hocking (groin) from injury.
The pair played for Essendon's VFL team on Saturday along with experienced defender Ben Howlett, with Hird saying the Bombers would look to bring the trio back into the senior team soon.