WITH a full pre-season under his belt for the first time, and a newfound confidence in his body, Essendon recruit Jye Caldwell has wasted no time in making an impression at his new club as he eyes a round one start for the Bombers.
The former Giant crossed to Essendon in the dying moments of last year's Trade Period in a deal that involved both clubs swapping off-field barbs, a hefty four-year contract and a tough call for the 20-year-old.
But having been keen to return to his home state of Victoria, the 2018 first-round draft pick said meeting new Essendon coach Ben Rutten convinced him of his decision.
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"I spoke with (Essendon list manager) Adrian [Dodoro] and 'Truck' (Rutten) a few times and I felt like it was an opportunity that I should take and if I gave it up I thought I'd kick myself," Caldwell told AFL.com.au.
"I loved the things that we spoke about. Nothing against the Giants, it was a good football club and I really enjoyed my last couple of years there, but moving forward I reckon for my football Essendon was the place to be.
"It was probably more about the history of the club. Truck spends a lot of time teaching us new boys about its history and how big it really is, but also on field we have a tight group in the midfield that we've all been working on and we all complement each other in there."
While the Giants lifted their offer to four years to keep Caldwell, the Bombers also had competition for him in Melbourne, with St Kilda also interested. The Saints won the commitment of free agent Brad Crouch, but also presented Caldwell with an offer.
"It was a hard decision actually. I made the right decision I feel like, but at the time, I grew up a Saints supporter and people thought that would be the case of choosing St Kilda," Caldwell said.
"But choosing Essendon, like I said, when I spoke to Truck and Adrian they had a real clear future and a clear plan which I liked and in the end that was what got me over the line in coming to the club."
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Essendon and Greater Western Sydney didn't agree on a deal for Caldwell until the last minute of the Trade Period, with the Bombers sending two second-round picks to the Giants in exchange for Caldwell and picks 44 and 74.
The haggling was two-fold. The Giants clearly rated Caldwell highly, having seen enough in his two seasons and 11 games, including a memorable debut in the Canberra snow, to know his power, explosiveness and quick hands would add to their midfield group.
But their desperation in keeping Caldwell was also in part due to the work they had done in building his body up to the rigours of AFL football, having entered the competition after an injury-hit draft year. Essendon is now seeing the benefits of that, with Caldwell piecing together his most complete pre-season yet.
"This has been probably my best pre-season I've had I reckon. The last couple of years I haven't been up to scratch with them but now I've done a full pre-season, I've missed probably one or two sessions through a little bit of soreness. But other than that I've done the full pre-season and I'm feeling fit and ready to go. Hopefully these matches coming up will test out how fit you really are," he said.
"I'm very confident in my body now. I used to doubt what I could do beforehand, but now I'm in a really good state to train most days and get the best out of myself. That's what you need to do if you're trying to get better you need to get out there more often, which I'm doing."
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The Bombers expect Caldwell to add to a growing midfield unit containing Zach Merrett, Andy McGrath, Darcy Parish, Dylan Shiel, Kyle Langford and Devon Smith, and already he has jelled well with midfield assistant coach and premiership Bomber Blake Caracella. Caldwell, too, expects to be making a difference early, with the Bombers kicking off their home and away campaign against Hawthorn in round one.
"I feel like the last two years I've been building up to this year, when I can hopefully play good consistent footy at Essendon. If it's in the midfield or forward, wherever I need to play, I'll go out there and do my role and try to play the best footy I can to give back to Essendon Football Club for believing in me," he said.