2013 has been a season full of ups and downs for the Essendon Football Club. Just when the ASADA investigation started to escape the media landscape, another serious allegation was thrown up, and once again, the defiant Dons had their backs against the wall. Former Essendon legend Matthew Lloyd was almost sure the Bombers would eventually succumb to the copious amount of pressure piled on top of them, but here we are, past the halfway mark of the season and they sit third on the ladder with a healthy percentage. Even when taking into account their remarkable drop last year, they appear to be a much improved side.

There is no denying that James Hird has improved the club since his controversial arrival in the latter stages of 2010. Jobe Watson has gone from being a very good inside midfielder to a Brownlow Medalist. David Zaharakis has gone from the boy who kicked that goal on ANZAC Day to a best and fairest winner and an integral part of the Bomber line up, and just recently, Jake Carlisle has gone from a skinny swingman to a player who is very much in All Australian calculations.

Essendon has an embarrassment of riches in terms of its key position stocks, many of which are ready to come in and make an instant impact. Those players include Patrick Ryder, Tom Bellchambers, Michael Hurley, Jake Carlisle, Tayte Pears, Stewart Crameri, Scott Gumbleton and of course the ever hyped father-son prodigy Joe Daniher. This is the first opportunity nearly all of them have been available for selection in a long time, with only Crameri being unavailable. It creates a dilemma amongst the selection committee, which serves as a good problem for Hird to have. A not-so-good problem Hird faces is the prospect of retaining all of them.

Additionally, the Dons have a midfield group who only a few years ago were comprehensively beaten in the centre week in week out. Fast forward a few years and that midfield group is one of the best in the competition through the means of good drafting and development. New midfield coach Simon Goodwin is another who should be applauded for his work in the centre. Even the much maligned Jake Melksham, who had polarised Bomber fans over the past year, has steadily improved and has had a very good past month along with his counterparts.

Alternatively, another much improved aspect of the Essendon line up has been their defence, in 2013 they rank third for points scored against. Comparatively, at the end of last year they ranked 11th. Since his arrival, Hird has stressed the importance of team defence,  and perhaps this has helped the likes of Carlisle, Cale Hooker and Dustin Fletcher hold the backline in good stead. Although the up and coming Carlisle has maintained the spotlight throughout the year, the unheralded Hooker has been nearly as good. He leads the competition in intercept marks and intercept possessions setting up numerous goals throughout the year which showcases his importance to the Essendon line-up.

Furthermore, there isn’t much more you could have asked of star recruit Brendon Goddard. After a poor last couple seasons by his standards he has certainly proved that he was worth the coin Essendon threw at him. Goddard is currently averaging 26 disposals, which is an improvement on his last two years. His leadership and influence certainly came into the fray against West Coast in round 14, where after a poor first two quarters only totalling six possessions, Goddard stood up when it counted in the second half accumulating 14 possessions and an important goal in the dying stages of the fourth quarter. Essendon’s stellar comeback against West Coast further exemplifies their outstanding interstate record since Hird took the helm, where he has substantially improved their interstate win tally.

You would struggle to find many people outside the ASADA investigation who knew exactly what transpired at Essendon when Stephen Dank was at the club. It is already known that Watson took the substance AOD-9604, banned under WADA’s S0 category. This new revelation almost immediately led to demands that he relinquish his Brownlow Medal and be stood down immediately. Even when taking into account the possible sanctions that await the club, whether it be a big fine and a slap on the wrist, or something considerably worse, with a healthy list and some good young players waiting in the wings, Essendon should be well placed for the future.