ESSENDON coach Mark Thompson has laid down the challenge to Thomas Bellchambers - play well today and there's a final in it for you next week.
Thompson has recalled his Launceston big-man for the clash against arch rivals Carlton at the MCG for just his seventh game of the season, looking to strengthen its ruck stocks and provide another target up front in the absence of the hamstrung Jake Carlisle.
As Thompson put it yesterday, 25-year-old Bellchambers has had a ''cow'' of a year, after a preseason left ankle injury, sustained when he landed on teammate Michael Hibberd 's foot at training in January.
He had subsequent surgery that repaired the lateral and medial ligaments and cleaned up a small amount of cartilage damage.
A lack of fitness has been his main stumbling block, spending plenty of time in the VFL in recent weeks in an effort to rectify that situation.
In a positive, Thompson said Bellchambers, who is listed at 108 kilograms, has lost some of that weight thanks to cross training.
''He probably played his best game last week (in the VFL),'' Thompson said yesterday.
''He couldn't be more ready to play, but he's had a cow of a season and has been absolutely destroyed by the preseason injury to his ankle.
''We're given him a chance and he'll provide great relief for Paddy (Ryder) if he does get up and play well and gives us another option forward.
''It (that structure) depends on Tom and if he plays well, and if he doesn't, we won't go with him.
''That's fair enough as that's what we do, as we've got to pick the best team, but we're hoping that it does work, as it was our most preferred set up at the start of the year.''
Essendon has played two finals during Bellchambers' time at the club, with the Tasmanian missing selection for both, which includes being dropped at the last minute before the 2009 elimination final against Adelaide.
The Bombers are likely to face North Melbourne at the MCG either next Saturday night or Sunday afternoon in an elimination final.
Recruited with the eighth pick in the 2007 preseason draft, Bellchambers has played 67 games in the red and the black.
He is averaging eight touches, three marks and 16 hit-outs and has kicked 2.4 this season, well down from his career best numbers of last year of 10 touches, four marks and 22 hit-outs, a year in which he kicked 28.11.