ESSENDON spearhead Joe Daniher's small steps back from his debilitating groin injury were on show at training on Thursday, as the Bombers trialed dashing half-back Conor McKenna in a new role.
The Bombers this week admitted they are unsure when Daniher will be fit for senior selection, saying he may not be available at AFL level until mid-year.
The 25-year-old, who failed in his bid to be traded to Sydney last off-season, has returned to running this week and spent Thursday's session completing light work.
Joe Daniher running today at Essendon training. Has stepped up his program this week by returning to running. Also doing some short kicking. pic.twitter.com/zZ2uyUTE3p— Callum Twomey (@CalTwomey) February 5, 2020
The 2017 Virgin AFL All-Australian forward and Essendon best and fairest winner ran in short intervals before jogging some laps around the Bombers' secondary training oval.
Daniher also participated in some short kicking with captain Dyson Heppell (foot) and Cale Hooker (hip), who are also in the rehabilitation group as they come back from respective surgeries.
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James Stewart (groin), Sam Draper (knee), Lachie Johnson (knee) and Mitch Hibberd (knee) were the other Bombers restricted in their training. Ruckman Tom Bellchambers did not take part, while Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti missed most of the session after being spotted earlier doing individual running.
It is a far fitter list than a month ago when the Bombers' returned from their Christmas break, and a vast improvement on the health of the group in December when nearly a quarter of the list was recovering from surgeries.
Essendon is not yet taking part in full-scale match practice, but it’s notable McKenna is training among the forwards group for some periods and playing as a forward in the short match simulation drills.
He also performed a similar role last Saturday when the Bombers broke up their training into some short contests.
The Irishman began his career as a speedy forward but has developed into one of the competition's leading half-backs with his dash, run and carry and kicking skills.
Last year the 23-year-old said he would be keen to shift back into a goalkicking role, saying he would "like to eventually end up there".
No.1 pick Andrew McGrath impressed throughout the session in the midfield, while Orazio Fantasia, positioned occasionally as a wingman, was also lively.
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Half-forward Nigel Lockyer and tall defender Nathan Ireland, who AFL.com.au revealed are vying for the Bombers' final list spot potentially as a pre-season supplemental selection, continued their trial on Thursday.
Lockyer took the eye at one stage with a strong high mark, which is one of the 22-year-old's key attributes.