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The Bombers’ Soft Tissue Woes

It would be a bittersweet feeling at the Essendon Football Club right now.

On the positive side, the Bombers managed to put away a spirited Port Adelaide outfit at AAMI Stadium on Saturday night. After trailing at quarter time and half time, and only holding a slender eleven point lead at the last change, Essendon piled on six goals to none in the last quarter to take home the four points.

More good news – Jobe Watson also continued his stellar season with another superior display, collecting 28 disposals and kicking a goal, leading by example.

But the best news of all came in the form of Scott Gumbleton, who booted three goals and collected fourteen touches. The number 2 pick in a draft that gave us Bryce Gibbs, Joel Selwood, Jack Riewoldt, Kurt Tippett, Todd Goldstein and Josh P. Kennedy has, by the standards set by some of the other picks of the 2006 draft, been slow to start his career. Playing just 22 matches in five seasons after being plagued by injury, Gumbleton gave the Bombers faithful what they’ve been looking for since 2007 – a solid display from a strong centre-half forward.

Sadly, that’s where the positives end for James Hird’s men, with Essendon falling victim to the curse of the soft-tissue injury yet again, with defender Michael Hibberd the latest domino to fall, becoming what is Essendon’s eighteenth soft tissue injury of the year. Hibberd was subbed off with a hamstring injury in the third quarter of Essendon’s win over Port Adelaide. He has already missed several games this year due to a similar hamstring injury in the ANZAC Day game against Collingwood.

The Bombers’ curse has already claimed livewire forward Angus Monfries, rising star Michael Hurley, number one ruckman Paddy Ryder and enigmatic ball magnet David Zaharakis.

The sudden rise in soft tissue injuries at the Bombers has called into question their new fitness program, implemented at the beginning of 2012. But coach James Hird claims that the short-term pain for his players will amount to long-term gain in the future.

“We think we’ve got an excellent physical preparation program,” Hird has said. “[It] is having some problems at the moment, but we think it will do the right thing over a long enough time.”

The condition of the grass at Essendon’s home ground Etihad Stadium has given rise to speculation that the harder surface is partly responsible for the Bombers’ soft-tissue woes. The Bombers have ten rostered games at Etihad this year, the fourth-highest in the competition. “There’s no doubt that Essendon has had significant injuries and the harder surface at Etihad would have a small contribution to that,” Hird claims.

However, while Essendon tops the ladder in terms of players missing weeks with soft-tissue injuries (with 47), North Melbourne, who have thirteen rostered games at Etihad (the highest in the competition), have only seen a player miss one week due to soft-tissue injuries.

With the Bombers struggling to find a way into the top four come finals time, it’s abundantly clear that if they are to stand a chance in September, they can’t afford to be struck down with the soft-tissue curse again.

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