DYSON Heppell has declared himself a certain starter for Essendon's elimination final against West Coast, but key defender Michael Hurley is touch-and-go to face the Eagles.
The Bombers will open this year's finals series against the Eagles at Optus Stadium next Thursday night, and Heppell said he will make the trip and return from a foot injury that has interrupted his second half of the season.
Essendon rested Heppell last week against Collingwood, alongside other key players Orazio Fantasia (soreness), Jake Stringer (hamstring) and Cale Hooker (illness), while Hurley dislocated his shoulder against the Pies.
But Heppell, who will require surgery on the foot issue at the end of Essendon's season, said he will be leading out the Bombers in their return to September.
"[I'm] ready to go. I think we've put in a really good program to manage the foot and I got through about an eight kilometre session on Saturday so I'm feeling ready to go," he said on Monday.
"It's holding up really well. I reckon I've turned a bit of a corner with it. We've got it to a pretty stable position. Obviously it was pretty tender at times, and I think I've now turned a point where I'm not feeling it too much and should be right to go."
But things are less certain for Hurley, who has had scans on his right shoulder after last Friday's loss to Collingwood.
He has suffered damage that is likely to require surgery post-season as well, with coach John Worsfold saying his place in the team will be a last-minute call.
Michael Hurley goes down with a shoulder injury against the Pies. Picture: AFL Photos
Hurley trained with the main group at Monday's light session at Tullamarine without a sling for his arm.
"He's walking around looking pretty good at the moment. He's got a sore shoulder, so I think it's going to come down to the wire whether he plays or not," Worsfold said.
"Knowing 'Hurls' he's going to have a really good crack at it.
"He'll be doing everything he can to test that shoulder out and get some strength and movement into it while he's keeping up his training volumes. He'll still run and make sure he's doing a lot of skill work, but he probably won't do the competitive stuff until the game."
Essendon is back in the top-eight for the first time since 2017 but faces the task of knocking off last year's premiers at home to progress to a semi-final.
The Bombers beat Fremantle at the venue two weeks ago to seal their finals position, and also beat West Coast at the ground last year, but Worsfold said that recent record meant little this week.
He also disregarded Essendon's finals record as a factor. The club hasn't won a final since 2004 – the longest drought of any team in the competition – and has had four elimination final disasters in that period.
The Bombers were thrashed by Adelaide (in 2009), Carlton (2011) and Sydney (2017) in the first week of the finals, and also lost to North Melbourne in 2014 after leading the Roos by more than five goals in the third quarter.
Worsfold said there wasn't a monkey on the back of the Bombers.
"No, not at all. How long's the monkey been there? I think I was playing for West Coast back then [when Essendon last won a final], so you can't put the monkey on my back from 15 years ago," he said.
"My belief is we've prepared this team as good as we can going into this finals series. Hopefully we'll have as many top-line players available going into the game and we're looking forward to Thursday night."