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Hibberd set for emotional return

Peter Ryan  April 21, 2017 10:23 AM

MICHAEL Hibberd expects a flood of emotions to hit him when he runs out in a Melbourne jumper on Anzac Day eve against Richmond for his first AFL game in 18 months.

Nerves will follow excitement until an early touch of the football brings a normality missing from Hibberd's football for too long.

His most recent AFL game at the MCG was, coincidentally, against Richmond on August 29, 2015 when he wore an Essendon jumper for the 84th time.

In the 604 days that have passed, Hibberd not only ran with the bulls in Pamplona during his season-long ban, he overcame knee tendinitis, hamstring soreness and an Achilles strain.

He also experienced a range of emotions that only those at Essendon between 2012-2015 and their friends and families can truly understand.

"It will be weird when I think back on all the emotions I have been through in the past 18 months and everything that has happened, as well as being at a new club," Hibberd told AFL.com.au.

"Sitting out and watching footy last year was hard, and to actually have it right in front of me now and be ready to play it is exciting."

Hibberd imagines his girlfriend Anthea will be relieved to see him back in action, having ridden the rollercoaster of emotions with her partner over the past 18 months.

As will his brother Geoff, whom Hibberd describes as his biggest fan.

"My whole family will be the same, but those two in particular [will be happy]," Hibberd said.

"I would have been a bit of a handful for the last 18 months with the headaches I have had and the emotions I have gone through."

Not only did he deal with being out of the game, he spent time agonising over whether to join Melbourne after five seasons with the Bombers.

It meant he spent 2016 balancing the responsibility to keep fit with the need to return fresh from the ban.

Because of that the Demons re-introduced him slowly, starting him with the first-to third-year players as he overcame his knee issues.

A hamstring niggle saw him on light duties during the club's training camp at Maroochydore in February and then he felt pain in his Achilles at training in the week after the first JLT Community Series game.

That's why he was wearing the No.91 jumper for Casey Demons in the opening round of the VFL on Easter Monday, where he had 25 disposals, his body primed to keep him out of rehab when he returns.

"At the moment I feel as good as I have for years. I'm feeling pretty fit and dropped a few 'kegs' {kilograms] since I got back to the club, which helps. I can't wait to play now," Hibberd said.

With that game under his belt and a solid block of training behind him, he is a strong chance of making the team when it is finalised over the weekend.

Melbourne needs his run out of defence and toughness too as it attempts to return to the winner's list.

And he's desperate to contribute to a club creating an environment that suits him down to the ground.

"The coaches and the people around the club make it a fun place to be, which is good because footy clubs can get a bit boring and stale at times, and doing the same thing every time can wear you down," Hibberd said. 

"They have come up with ways to rejuvenate the group and keep us happy and keep us on task."

Hibberd has not forgotten what those tasks are as he transfers his bullocking style across town to add experience to Simon Goodwin's team.

"He [Goodwin] just wants me to lead the backline and be a bit of a leader for these young guys…[basically] just perform and help the team get better. That is what I expect from myself anyway," Hibberd said.