JOE DANIHER is finally back.
Essendon has confirmed that its star key forward will make his long-awaited return to action in Thursday night's clash with Hawthorn, marking his first appearance in more than 15 months.
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Daniher has endured persistent groin issues, while his recovery was further hampered by a calf strain earlier this year, limiting the club's attacking spearhead to just 11 matches over the last three seasons.
However, despite fears he would sit out the entirety of the current campaign, the Bombers have revealed that Daniher will finally return against the Hawks to help bolster the side's push for a finals berth.
"The great news is that we are expecting him to play," Essendon coach John Worsfold said.
"We've obviously got a light session this morning, but we're really excited that Joe has done the work to be available and ready to step back up to play some footy. It's great for Joe and great for us and great for footy.
"It's been a really close partnership over a long period of time, getting to this point where Joe is ready to go.
"Obviously we had a little setback with his calf injury a month ago, or we'd have been at this point a little bit earlier. But we got through that and we've done the work. Joe is very comfortable and excited about getting back out there."
Essendon will again send Daniher straight into the senior team without playing a scratch match, having undertaken a similar strategy last year when he returned to action without a VFL game under his belt for a Good Friday clash with North Melbourne.
Despite not playing in last week's scratch match, the Bombers are confident that Daniher has done enough preparation to ensure he is fully fit for Thursday night's encounter at the Adelaide Oval.
"Obviously everything is fairly different in terms of getting players back playing in this current environment," Worsfold said.
"We certainly weighed all of that up. With the match practice that we had last week, it didn't fit into the right schedule to have Joe available to play (a scratch match) this week.
"Weighing that up, he's done his match volumes over the last two or three weeks. We're comfortable that it means he's ready to go. He's been able to do some competitive work within those training sessions."
Daniher was involved in one of last year's most high-profile trade sagas, failing to secure a move to Sydney after a lengthy ordeal despite informing Essendon that he wished to move clubs.
With his future still up in the air, and with the star Bombers forward set to become one of the most sought-after restricted free agents at season's end, where Daniher will be playing next season remains unknown.
"At the right time, those discussions will happen," Worsfold said.
"Obviously, Joe knows the club wants him to stay. We'd love him to play out his whole career at Essendon. But there's going to be a new coach next year and those discussions are going to be more heavily involved with Ben Rutten and the list management group.
"It rests with Joe's desires, mainly."