Hibberd prepares for emotional AFL day

The emotional AFL matches just keep coming for Melbourne defender Michael Hibberd.

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On Monday night, the former Essendon man returned to action after 18 months out of the game in the Anzac Day eve defeat by Richmond.

And on Sunday, the former banned Bomber will face off against the players he’s shared so much with during his period out of the game at Etihad Stadium.

It has been a big fortnight for the 27-year-old who said he is embracing the different emotions.

“It was a big build-up emotionally to the game (against Richmond) after 18 months out,” he said.

“It was a relief to be able to play and perform quite well.

“You’re not sure how the game changes every year. It gets quicker and harder. So to come back and not feel too out of place was good.”

Hibberd was the only player to sign for another club during the doping ban handed down to Essendon’s class of 2012, and he’s keen for a fresh start under Melbourne senior coach Simon Goodwin – a former Bombers assistant.

He trained alongside his banned teammates during the hiatus year and remains close with many.

“I’ve been through a lot with all those guys. It will be an emotional night,” he said.

Hibberd won’t have the chance to kick to Jesse Hogan, who has been granted leave by the club following the death of his father.

But Jordan Lewis returns after a three-week ban for striking Patrick Cripps.

Between them, the Bombers and Demons have made nine changes for the match.

Melbourne talls Jake Spencer (shoulder) and Tim Smith (ribs) have joined Max Gawn (hamstring) on the sidelines, with Cameron Pedersen and Jake Watts likely to shoulder the ruck load.

Along with Lewis and Pedersen, the Demons recalled Tomas Bugg, Oscar McDonald and Mitch Hannan.

Billy Stretch and James Harmes were dropped.

The Bombers axed veteran Brent Stanton after his quiet performance in Anzac Day win over Collingwood.

Ruckman Tom Bellchambers will play his first senior game this season and the Bombers have also recalled Ben Howlett, Martin Gleeson and Conor McKenna.

James Kelly, Aaron Francis and Matthew Leuenberger were also omitted as Essendon deal with their five-day turnaround.