James Hird
James Hird

Essendon coach James Hird will make a raft of changes to his side as they prepare for their season-defining clash with North Melbourne at Etihad Stadium on Sunday.

The Bombers endured a torrid July, suffering heavy defeats to St Kilda, Geelong and Hawthorn.

And despite a brave showing in their four-point defeat to Adelaide last week, Essendon have been left clinging on to eighth spot, less than one percentage point clear of ninth-placed Fremantle on the ladder.

Taking on the Kangaroos, who have won seven of their last eight, will not be easy but Hird is ready to swing the changes, with big men Dustin Fletcher and Paddy Ryder a chance to return from injury, as are midfielders Angus Monfries and Brett Stanton.

"We have got at least four guys back this week, maybe six," Hird told reporters before the club's training session at Etihad Stadium on Thursday.

"Crameri, Monfries, Fletcher, Hibberd, Stanton and Ryder (are) all a chance to come back. There's some very good players there.

"All six have given themselves a pretty good chance to play. We'd be very confident on Crameri, Hibberd, Monfries, Fletcher and Ryder. Stants (Stanton) ... we will wait and see. It's a matter of how many we want to bring back in."

On the subject of Fletcher, Hird declared he was 'very excited' that the 37-year-old veteran was keen to sign a new deal and remain at the club next season.

Dropping any of his players who fought so well against the Crows would be tough according to the Essendon coach, but he said that the changes were necessary in order to keep the club's finals aspirations alive.

"There (was) some really good performances last week," he said.

"There might be some unlucky guys. That's what we have got to weigh up. We need to start getting a pretty ruthless team out there (that) wants to win and needs to win."

That a side like Essendon, who won eight of their first nine matches, are battling to make the finals is surprising although Hird hasn't been helped by a crippling injury list that contains several victims of soft-tissue problems.

The Bombers gained plenty of momentum from their two-point win in Round 1 against the Kangaroos, in which Hamish McIntosh missed a shot for goal after the siren, and both sides went in opposite directions over the first half of the season.

North Melbourne are in terrific form at the moment, and Hird is aware Brad Scott's side will present a strong challenge in a contest between two clubs who have 'a healthy rivalry' according to the Essendon coach.

"The two clubs are within three or four kilometres of each other and we have always enjoyed playing each other. (It is) a healthy rivalry, (dating) back to the (Wayne) Carey days in the mid-90s," Hird said.

"They have been great. They are playing excellent footy and they run the ball very well. If we can't defend the ground then we will be in for a very long night."

Meanwhile, the career of Bombers veteran Mark McVeigh is in some doubt after he was placed on the club's long-term injury list on Thursday following a poor run with knee, hip and hamstring injuries.

Brendan Lee has been elevated off the rookie list and may be a chance to play this weekend against North.


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