The year to date
In what had been a devastating and challenging few years at Essendon, there was something finally to smile about at Bomberland as a two year long investigation from ASADA looked to be behind them. The Essendon players could begin to enjoy their football again.
With the majority of the playing group underdone, having not been involved in any of the pre-season games due to an internal suspension, expectations at Essendon were uncertain. With more experience on the list it seemed as though the Bombers were looking to improve on their seventh-placed finish from last year.
With many predicting a near impossible two fixtures against last year’s grand finalists as certain losses, Essendon turned a few heads. An impressive game against Sydney saw them come within inches of an unlikely victory at ANZ Stadium, before going one better the next week with a thrilling two-point win over reigning premiers Hawthorn.
However, this all changed in a matter of weeks. WADA’s decision to appeal the tribunal’s decision has seemed to crush the players of any fight they had left. As their off-field troubles began to escalate, their on-field productivity took a turn for the worse, with the Bombers having lost their last four games.
The mid-season break couldn’t come quicker for the 13th placed Bombers; while there was a renewed sense of vigour against the Hawks, there’s still a lot to address if they are to salvage anything out of this year.
An impressive start to the season has been the major positive for the Bombers. Coming within two goals of the Swans in Sydney before defeating the Hawks in round two suggests that, when they’re on, Essendon’s best footy can match just about anyone. However, the burning question is: can they bring their best every game, all game?
In addition to that, the performances of some individuals in what has predominantly been a terrible season thus far are heartening for Essendon fans. Michael Hurley finally looks completely comfortable and dependable as the second tall down back, alongside Cale Hooker who is again putting his hand up for All Australian honours.
But what will excite most fans is the development of young guns Travis Colyer and Zach Merrett, who both look like they have taken another step in their development to become big contributors on a consistent basis.
To add to Essendon’s misery, Colyer has gone down with a season-ending foot injury: however, up until the bye rounds, he was one of the very few shining lights for his side. Averaging 16 disposals a game and adding a further 11 goals to go with his blistering pace, Colyer was beginning to become a solid contributor every week.
The form of Merrett will also be pleasing for Essendon fans. At just 19 years of age, Merrett too has been one of Essendon’s more influential performers. Spending more time in the midfield this season, the second year player has averaged an 22 disposals a game and contributed a further five tackles on average, putting him in the top five for disposals and tackles made at the club.
It’s been a very inconsistent and interrupted season thus far. Having begun the season with the majority of the playing group not having match practice, an impressive start to the season has counted for nought with the Bombers now sitting 13th on the ladder, with mounting pressure on James Hird and the playing group.
Injuries to key players have not helped the cause either, with players like Jason Winderlich, David Myers, Heath Hocking and David Zaharakis missing for most of the season.
The ultimate issue of kicking a winning score has been an issue for Essendon for some time and Hird is yet to find an answer. Essendon rank 16th in the competition in terms of goals scored, only averaging a measly 10 goals a game despite being ranked third in disposals, which has prompted questions surrounding the productivity of both their forwards and midfielders.
Another burning issue for the Bombers is their lack of having an effective ruckman. After the departure of Patrick Ryder, there was speculation when it came to how greatly his absence would affect Essendon, given how crucial he was in 2014.
It’s evident now though that his loss has come at a cost, as Tom Bellchambers has failed to match the expectations set. Prior to going down with injury, Bellchambers was averaging only 9.8 disposals a game and was essentially anonymous when resting forward, contributing 0.2 goals a game. On top of that, back-up ruckman Jonathan Giles has barely had a look in the senior side, with his VFL performances not warranting a senior berth.
There are definitely a lot of issues that need to be addressed by the coaching staff over the coming weeks, especially since their list isn’t exactly getting any younger.
Where to from here?
With Essendon’s season heading into its most pivotal point, things need to start beginning to turn for James Hird’s side. They need to get back to the basics that made them so exciting to watch in the opening rounds of the season. Playing a fearless attacking brand of football, playing through the corridor and using the ball effectively needs to come to the fore.
The coming two fixtures will be make or break for the Bombers, who face two winnable albeit challenging games against two opposition sides in relatively good form in Melbourne and St Kilda. The Bombers must bring their A-game if they want to get their season back on track.
Along with the short-term difficulties facing the club and its coaching staff, there are many long-term challenges that the club must address to move bring them closer to success. Re-signing Jake Carlisle – a highly talented and integral part of Essendon’s future – is a must, as is the inclusion of some much-needed pace into a slow, stagnant outfit.
If Essendon can sort out its short-term issues and generate some consistency and confidence, the results will begin to turn: the quality of the players is there, but the output at the moment is not. This season has been full of twists and turns, filled with inconsistencies and fluctuations. It’s definitely not season over for Essendon, but they definitely need to start getting wins on the board for their loyal supporters.