HomeSportEarly Mail: Session that sealed Darling’s shock return

Early Mail: Session that sealed Darling’s shock return

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The Herald Sun understands West Coast will play Darling, who was away from the club for weeks after refusing to be vaccinated under AFL and WA health protocols.He was dominant in a short match simulation session over the weekend and has proved he is over minor foot soreness.Darling will join Tim Kelly and Liam Ryan, who will be out of Covid protocols, as well as captain Luke Shuey (hamstring) and Alex Witherden (suspension).KFC SuperCoach is back! You could win the Holy Grail of Fantasy Footy plus $50k cash. PLAY NOW >Kelly caught Covid last week while Ryan had a week in quarantine as a close contact then days later caught omicron himself so will only be out later this week.Liam Duggan (knee) may be another week away but the Eagles’ unavailability issues are easing after they had 16 players out in round 1’s fighting loss to Gold Coast.Darling was unable to train with his teammates for most of the pre-season as he failed to meet the AFL’s expected COVID-19 protocols.He joined training just before the season started, but suffered a foot injury in the lead up to Round 1 and missed the game against the Suns.Coach Adam Simpson said he is fit, but they won’t risk him if there is a risk.“We’ll work through … he’s super fit,” Simpson said.“He only missed a few sessions with it.“It’s how he feels. We had a bit of a match-sim with the WAFL Eagles on the weekend and he kicked about 10 goals, so he looked OK. But it was three 12-minute sort of quarters.“So, we’ll see how he goes, see how he pulls up.“We won’t rush him. If he’s right, he’s right. If he’s not, he won’t play.”In Darling’s absence, the Eagles found nine goal kickers against the Suns, with Josh Kennedy, Jamaine Jones and Jack Petruccelle each kicking two.But they took only nine marks from 42 inside 50 entries and kicked 12.8 for the game.The inclusions of Shuey and Kelly would be a massive help to a midfield that lost the clearance battle against the Suns.Touk Miller, Matt Rowell, Jarrod Witts and Brayden Fiorini helped saw the Gold Coast finish with an advantage in clearances, winning the centre clearance battle 16-12.Jack Redden was the only regular centre-bounce player available for West Coast and had assistance from Willie Rioli, Andrew Gaff and Jones.As the Eagles try to get their best team on the ground, Simpson said that staying away from COVID-19 remains an issue.STRINGER’S FINAL HURDLE FOR DESPERATE BOMBERSEssendon could be bolstered by the return of two key players including star matchwinner Jake Stringer for Saturday’s clash against the Brisbane Lions.Stringer has recovered from a groin issue but will have to prove his fitness at training this week to get the nod against the Lions after the Bombers’ poor first-up loss to Geelong on Saturday. Swingman Aaron Francis (knee) is also a chance to boost a forward line which managed just three goals to halftime in the 66-point loss to the Cats. But gun ruckman Sam Draper is in hot water for his gut punch on Esava Ratugolea.The AFL ruled Draper’s action in hitting Ratugolea was only careless instead of intentional, which saw him handed a $2000 fine.With the ball in the air after coming off Patrick Dangerfield’s boot only metres away, Draper was within his rights to attempt to dislodge the ball or tackle Draper.The clumsy manner in which he did so made it a reportable offence but the MRO judged it as careless, rather than intentional.Brisbane livewire Mitch Robinson will miss the clash against the Bombers after copping a one-match ban.While Robinson braced for the contact rather than aggressively ploughed into Xavier Duursma, the MRO ruled he continued his momentum.Under new AFL tribunal guidelines a rough conduct strike that has the capacity to cause serious injury is usually assessed as at least medium force.The Bombers, who were labelled a genuine premiership threat by premiership coach Mick Malthouse, were belted in the midfield by the Cats and scolded for some poor defensive efforts. It would have delivered a reality check of sorts to an Essendon team which surged up the ladder last season to make the finals despite modest expectations.Coach Ben Rutten said it was “strange” some of the Bombers’ more experienced players in particular were “fumbly” and “slow to move” as the Cats led the centre clearances 12-2 at halftime.But Stringer looms as a huge addition to a midfield which missed his size and strength around the ball, while Francis would provide another crucial marking target in the forward half. Stringer’s groin pain has eased but he has missed several weeks of training and will have to prove this week he has the fitness conditioning to perform at the required level in the midfield and forward lines. Stringer suffered a groin problem on the eve of the season and Francis copped a knock to the knee and will be recalled if he can pass tests at training this week. Essendon will need to respond quickly but faces a tough fortnight against premiership heavyweights Brisbane (Marvel Stadium) and Melbourne (MCG) in it next two matches.Former Fremantle and St Kilda coach Ross Lyon said the Bombers faced a big week trying to address any issues which may have contributed to its ordinary performance in the season-opener. “You would be looking at your prep. You can be over-psyched and too pumped up and it just flattens you out,” Lyon said on Triple M. “All that positive press (over pre-season), like what Mick (Malthouse) said I was like, ‘Oh, that is a big call’.“But they (players) are human. They do not deliberately back off. You don’t read it (positive press) and say, ‘I’m drinking my own bathwater, it is all going to happen’. “But it seeps in, it gets into your subconscious. “And you just take little liberties here and there and as a coach if you are not alert to it and not driving it (high standards) all of a sudden you blink and you are mediocre.“That is how fine a line it is in this game.”Goal kicker Kyle Langford faces at least three weeks on the sidelines after suffering a hamstring injury, which is a repeat of the blow which sidelined him for the elimination final last season.Jayden Laverde also faces a light week on the track to recover from a bruising collision with Jeremy Cameron which forced the defender to the bench for regular breaks on Saturday.  

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