Hibberd's long journey to AFL showpiece

Melbourne veteran Michael Hibberd is right in the mix to play in the 2021 AFL grand final.
Melbourne veteran Michael Hibberd is right in the mix to play in the 2021 AFL grand final.

Five years ago, a suspended Michael Hibberd made a decision that set him on the road to a potential AFL grand final berth.

One of 34 past and present Essendon players suspended for the 2016 season after the club's supplements saga, Hibberd spent part of that year travelling Europe, contemplated his future, then requested a trade in August.

He joined Melbourne in that year's trade period.

Now, 88 AFL games for Melbourne later, the veteran Demons defender is on the verge of becoming the first of those banned Bombers to play in the AFL's showpiece game.

Hibberd has played 16 of a possible 24 games this year but fell out of favour late in the home and away season before a recall for the preliminary final after Joel Smith's hamstring injury.

With a strong defensive showing in Friday's big win over Geelong, the 31-year-old made his case to retain his spot for September 25's grand final against the Western Bulldogs.

Teammate Jake Melksham, who crossed from Essendon to Melbourne in 2015, could also earn the honour of becoming the first former 'banned Bomber' to play in a grand final - though he has played just 12 games this year and hasn't featured since round 22.

Both joined Melbourne as Paul Roos prepared to hand the coaching reins over to Simon Goodwin, the former Essendon assistant who was also caretaker coach for the final game of 2013.

The duo are already among a handful of the Essendon 34 that have come close to playing in grand finals, but fallen short.

Hibberd and Melksham were both in Goodwin's Melbourne team that copped a preliminary final smashing from West Coast in 2018, while Angus Monfries kicked four goals in Port Adelaide's 2014 preliminary final loss.

Stewart Crameri missed out on the Bulldogs' breakthrough 2016 triumph amid his own suspension after playing an elimination final in 2015, while Paddy Ryder (Port Adelaide and St Kilda) and Jake Carlisle (St Kilda) also played finals at other clubs.

Multiple Bombers who stayed at Essendon played in losing elimination finals in 2017, 2019 and 2021.

Australian Associated Press