ESSENDON coach John Worsfold has cast some doubt on whether star forward Joe Daniher will be back from injury for the start of next season, with the Bombers to prioritise his long-term fitness.
Daniher played the first seven games of this year, kicking just eight goals, before he missed the rest of the season with osteitis pubis.
The 2017 best and fairest and All Australian forward still remains some time away from rejoining full training, with the Bombers saying they expect the 24-year-old to be back with the main group after their Christmas break.
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Worsfold said the Bombers wouldn't rush Daniher in a bid for him to be fit for their round one clash with Greater Western Sydney at Spotless Stadium on Sunday, March 24.
"Joey's working really hard. That OP injury can be a chronic, crippling injury so our No.1 priority is that it doesn't linger and affect multiple seasons for Joey," Worsfold said at Essendon's annual general meeting on Monday.
"He's still coming into his prime years, so if the sake of him absolutely getting over this injury means it actually takes a little bit longer than him being absolutely ready for round one then we'll do that."
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Essendon managed to cover Daniher in the second half of the season, finding other avenues to goal without the athletic and high-marking left-footer.
Shaun McKernan and Mitch Brown filled the void as goalkicking options, but for Essendon to challenge and rise up the ladder the Bombers will be keen to have Daniher back at his best.
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"We need him up and going and playing another 10 years at this footy club. He's tracking really well, working extremely hard, building a lot of strength back up, building up his running volume so we're pretty happy with the way Joey's going," Worsfold said.
Essendon's JLT Community Series begins on Thursday, February 28 against Carlton at Ikon Park.