With the ASADA investigation threatening to rule out as many as 17 current Essendon players, the club could find itself with a heavy reliance on youngsters such as Martin Gleeson in the near future.
Drafted with pick 53 in the 2012 National Draft, anyone who looked at the lanky Gleeson at the time knew he needed to add considerable muscle before he could make an impact at AFL level. As such, the midfielder was consigned to the VFL for the 2013 season in order to be eased into playing footy against bigger bodies.
Despite missing most of the 2014 pre-season through a shoulder injury, Gleeson was selected for round one and acquitted himself well enough to play in seven of Essendon’s first eight games of the season. However, a host of soft tissue leg injuries saw him sidelined for three months.
Regardless of a disappointing conclusion to the season for Gleeson – which saw him return in time for round 23 and the elimination final where he had little impact – the 20 year old showed glimpses of what he could bring to Essendon this season.
Gleeson possesses the most desirable asset in an outside midfielder, that being his poise under pressure and excellent decision making. The left-footer averaged just 12.6 disposals per game last season but rarely wasted them, with his disposal efficiency of 79.6% ranking as the best amongst Essendon’s midfielders.
No game better exhibited Gleeson’s skill set than his 21 disposal, eight mark effort against Fremantle where he went at 85% disposal efficiency against a Ross Lyon defence which has suffocated far more accomplished and seasoned players than Gleeson.
Gleeson is expected to play primarily off half-back in 2015 with Adam Cooney, Travis Colyer, David Zaharakis, Zach Merrett and Brendon Goddard ahead of him in the outside midfield pecking order. If anything, Gleeson will be able to continue his slow introduction to AFL football and continue to bulk up before making the leap to a full-time midfielder.
From half-back, Gleeson’s hard-running, poise and elite disposal by foot in combination with his long kicking ability will be an asset to Essendon as he will single-handedly launch counter-attacks and will provide the midfield depth which the Bombers have sorely lacked of late. Furthermore, his flexibility will allow Brendon Goddard to spend more time in the midfield and forward line as well as complementing the skills of Michael Hibberd.
With so many doubts hanging over the head of the composition of the Essendon playing list in the near future, the club needs a near-impeccable record in developing draftees to remain competitive. In Martin Gleeson, the Bombers have found a player that can be relied on for a long time to come.