Bombers seal emotional return to finals action

ENOUGH: Heath Hocking  celebrates a goal with Essendon teammate Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti   at Etihad Stadium.
ENOUGH: Heath Hocking celebrates a goal with Essendon teammate Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti at Etihad Stadium. Michael Dodge

THEY'RE back, baby.

And this incredible achievement can't be undersold.

Essendon's 15-point win over Fremantle at Etihad Stadium yesterday saw it return to the AFL finals for the first time since 2014.

Just as significantly, the win also saw Essendon become the fifth VFL/AFL team since 1923 - and the first since West Coast in 2011 - to make the finals one year after finishing with the wooden spoon.

And who knows what's in store for them in September, because the electric Bombers are the type of team no rival side will want to run into.

Heading into the 2017 AFL season, the Bombers were clearly the biggest unknown. A quarter of their list had just endured a year on the sidelines due to the CAS-imposed doping bans for the 2016 season. They were in an unprecedented situation.

Could these returning blokes effectively mix back in with their old - and new - teammates? How quickly could they build team chemistry? How would the returning players' bodies hold up?

Jobe Watson gets a special send off in his final home and away match.
Jobe Watson gets a special send off in his final home and away match. JOE CASTRO

Trying to predict pre-season where the Bombers would finish on the ladder was as difficult as solving a Rubik's cube for the first time.

Yes they had the fifth-oldest list in the competition - putting them, on paper, in premiership contention - but you would've been a brave fan to have them in your top eight.

Six months later, all those doubts and questions have been officially answered.

They're back in the finals frame.

For Bombers fans, who have followed the club so passionately through thick and thin this decade, it was the sweetest taste.

But few were happier than the players themselves - especially the man who has shouldered most of the heavy load over recent

"Our supporters are incredibly loyal, incredibly passionate - and the players feel it,” Bombers veteran Jobe Watson told Fox Footy.

"It's exciting for this football club, it's exciting for this group and I'm really thankful that I can play a part in it.”

One of those banned Bombers was Dyson Heppell - who took up the captaincy this year and has lead with aplomb.

"It's a great reward for not only everything we've been through, but the enormous amount of effort that's gone in from the whole footy club.

"The support we've had all year and like we've had tonight was fantastic, so it's super exciting for the boys.”

West Coast was playing Adelaide last night needing a win to usurp Melbourne in eighth place.

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