Orazio Fantasia played in the backline against North Melbourne. Picture: AFL Photos

ESSENDON is set to persist with Orazio Fantasia as a defender, as the club sweats on the fitness of Irish half-back Conor McKenna ahead of its crucial encounter with the Western Bulldogs on Friday night.

Fantasia impressed as he switched to a defensive role for last week's victory over North Melbourne, winning 19 disposals and providing plenty of drive alongside fellow speedsters McKenna and Adam Saad.

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But while Essendon coach John Worsfold is not yet sure whether he sees Fantasia as a permanent defender in the future, given he has been one of the club's leading goalkickers over the last four seasons, it's a role he will retain for the team's next batch of fixtures.

"I don't know the answer for that in terms of the long-term," Worsfold said.


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"We're really excited by what he brings to our team, regardless of whether he's forward or back. He's a quality player.

"He gives us a look at something a little bit different to our backline mix. When you add him in alongside Adam Saad and Conor McKenna, all of a sudden you've got three guys who are real playmakers and clever players.

"We think it adds another layer to how we want to play, so it's something that we're going to continue with for the near-future as we assess what it does for us overall as a team.


"Obviously you're giving up something without having Orazio in the forward-half. But our forward line has been working really hard together, so at the moment we feel as though this is something that's adding value to us going forward."

That trio of creative half-backs could be a man down for Friday night's clash with the Western Bulldogs at Metricon Stadium, with McKenna battling a fractured finger that has required surgery.

Having enjoyed a strong return to the senior team against the Kangaroos last Saturday night, winning 18 disposals, McKenna is now a 50/50 proposition to be deemed fit to play this week.

"I really can't answer that," Worsfold said.

"He obviously played out the game with a pretty sore hand. He only really brought it up post-game.


"He's had surgery on it, so the hand is in better shape than it was during the game. But surgery is not something you take light-hearted.

"The good news is that he's had the all-clear to play, providing he feels like he's able to play at the level that he'd like to perform. We won't know that until it settles after this operation.

"We'll give him as long as he needs, but he's a tough nut. That's why we haven't ruled him out. We'll wait and see what happens."

Meanwhile, Essendon will not rule out a 2020 return for Joe Daniher, despite the star forward's long history of injury issues plaguing him once more when he suffered a calf strain at training this week.

"It's just a normal calf," Worsfold said.

"Hopefully with the volume of work he's been doing, it won't take him too long to get back up to that level and we'll keep progressing."