2019 Lid Off! Amnesia pills available here


How Essendon will follow the Tiger template this year

By Jake Niall

If Essendon play deep into September this year, ending an embarrassing 15-year period in which the Dons have not won a final, one of the parties responsible will be the Richmond Football Club.

In 2019, Essendon will have a different game style to the one that saw them finish 11th last year, recovering from the dismal first eight rounds to finish with a flourish, creating great expectations that the club, no longer lumbered with the legacy of a drug scandal, could contend for the flag.

Touch of the Tigers: Essendon will look to improve their defence via the Richmond method in 2019.

Within Tullamarine, the view was that while they had performed far better from round nine, winning 10 of the last 14, the three teams that beat Essendon in the final 14 games were telling: Richmond (twice), Collingwood and Hawthorn.

Those teams, as the Bombers knew, shared one obvious trait: each of them had been well-drilled and rehearsed in a method for team defence, a system that covered for the deficiencies of individuals.

This year, the coach who held the team defence portfolio at Tigerland, Ben Rutten, has changed his stripe from yellow to red. Over summer, Rutten has been teaching and drilling the Essendon players - that’s all of them, not simply defenders - in a method that will borrow significantly from the successful Tiger template.

Essendon, despite the recovery from 2-6, did not defend terribly well in 2018. The Dons finished 11th on the points against ladder. Even though they improved after round eight (a period, coincidentally or not, that coincided with the ruthless removal of Mark Neeld from the coaching panel), they remained only average in team defence - the points against improved from 83.5 per game to 76 (ninth over the 14 rounds).

Those who have watched Essendon train over summer have noticed the sudden prevalence of Richmond-like defensive drills. No team defends better than the Tigers, who rely less on winning the ball at the source and are nonpareil at maintaining their "shape’’ defensively.

The best way to understand Richmond’s team defence - which drives their offence, too - is to think of it as an insurance policy: if they win the ball, they can take off, but they will have protective measures in place in the event of a turnover.

If they are beaten to the ball, the insurance policy is in place to win it back. This often means guarding space in the corridor - a drill that the Dons have been seen rehearsing, at Rutten’s direction.

The hallmarks of a Richmond defensive method are as follows: they play a zone, in which players guard both an opponent and space. They are versed in defending the kick down the line (which the Bombers also have been practising). And they use their speed and sheer intent to create turnovers in their forward half of the ground, where the buzzing likes of Jason Castagna and Dan Butler - neither destined for the Hall of Fame - have been valuable role players.

Essendon do not have the same personnel as the Tigers, so their game style will differ accordingly. Overall, both teams have speed - a key component to Richmond’s forward pressure - but the Tigers probably have a greater depth of endurance runners.

Hitherto, Essendon have kicked the ball often and spread the ball across the field - a method evident in the Dons’ high mark tallies. By spreading the field, however, they have left themselves open too often when the ball is turned over. The team that wins the ball back from Essendon does not find there is as much "density’’ - coach-speak for a crowd - as Richmond, Collingwood or Hawthorn would afford them.

The well-informed observers at club level expect this trait to change, and for the formerly ballistic Bombers to exercise greater caution with the ball, as they develop a Rutten-led insurance policy.

But the key to whether the Dons have successfully emulated Richmond won’t simply be Rutten’s teaching capacity. It will be the intent of the players. This means that if, say, Jake Stringer doesn’t chase and follow the system for closing down space, his position in the team must be in jeopardy.

John Worsfold has long been a coach who emphasises player management, relationships with players and staff and culture, rather than drilling the players in a particular method - the technical detail which, increasingly, is left in the hands of a club’s sharp assistant coaches, such as Rutten.

Damien Hardwick salvaged his career and won the feted, long-awaited flag by changing his method, delegating to new coaches in Justin Leppitsch and Blake Caracella (plus Rutten) and focusing on relationships. Collingwood’s Nathan Buckley, while falling a kick short of the grail, followed a remarkably similar script, learning to delegate and allowing his defensive coordinator, Justin Longmuir, to drive the game style change that held up in the face of injuries.

Lest we forget, too, that Hardwick, a nasty former Essendon back pocket, was giving the Tigers back some of the DNA that they donated to the Essendon Football Club in 1980, when another rugged back pocket called Kevin Sheedy walked in the door.

While Rutten doesn’t represent a Sheedy-like revolution at Essendon, once again, there will be a touch of yellow splashed in with the red and black this year.


Wonder if the 6-6-6 will compromise this.



Im pretty sure baby boy Ham has tattoos


Nats married. Theyve got great show chemistry though. 2 of the few likeable personalities on afl com.au


Fark off Jake you bald ugly turd. They dont get any credit you cretin.


Geez they sat on that revelatory article for a few months…


I can’t remember this much hype for an assistant coach at Essendon, or possibly anywhere else, before the team has even played a game. It’s all a bit odd really



You must be too young to remember back in the glory days when Premiership coach Bomber Thompson signed on as assistant to James Hird.

Edit: I see I am beaten to this riposte, so consider this as the footnote to sj’s picture.


McGrath 2nd half JLT


I hope Rutten isn’t a one trick pony.

What I mean is I hope he is a good defensive coach/tactician/communicator and not just the guy who had a plan that just happened to work with a particular group of players under a particular set of rules.


No one has ever won a flag by chasing tail.



Need to add Steven Bradbury and the Dom Sheed Gf goal


Looking forward to Geelong giving us a 6 goal hiding on Thursday night. I am sure many of you here will explain how we let them score too much and how Langford did not get BOG and how Shiel can’t duck like Selwood. Bring on our next meaningless practice match. They had a shorter JLT break and had to fly home from Perth and their training loads are higher. I get it. I am however delusionally lid off. Bring on round 1.


I’m holding my ground and staying lid off.


Yep that F Log guy is bang on. Whoop whoop. I can feel it. Bring it on


2019 AFL season preview: Essendon Bombers

Cameron Rose


6 hours ago

No team has more heavily spruiked in the off-season than Essendon despite the club not having won a final for 5302 days (@EFCFinals is a wonderful Twitter account for those who don’t follow the Bombers).

Much was expected of the Dons last year too, but they opened the season with a horrible two months of football to be sitting 15th on the ladder with only two wins. Things were that bad – they were even behind Gold Coast and the Western Bulldogs.

But after a Round 8 loss to Carlton that caused heads to roll, the Bombers turned things around. From Round 9 onwards Essendon won ten games and lost only four – those four losses being to Richmond (twice), Collingwood and Hawthorn, all sides that finished in the top four.

If a ladder was compiled just for Round 9 to Round 23, the Dons would have been sitting in the top four with those three teams. It’s reasonable to assume off the back of that final two-thirds of the season that they will improve.

Essendon Best 22

B: Martin Gleeson, Michael Hurley, Connor McKenna
HB: Aaron Francis, Cale Hooker, Adam Saad
C: David Zaharakis, Dylan Shiel, Andrew McGrath
HF: Devon Smith, Joe Daniher, Orazio Fantasia
F: Mark Baguley, Jake Stringer, Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti
Foll: Tom Bellchambers, Dyson Heppell, Zach Merrett
Int: Mitch Brown, David Myers, Kyle Langford, Darcy Parish
Em: Shaun McKernan, Patrick Ambrose, Matt Guelfi

Dylan Shiel has been acclaimed as a big-name signing that can boost the Essendon midfield, adding some more class alongside Zach Merrett and offering some more support for him too.

Neither player could find a spot in The Roar AFL top 50 when five writers voted; while both have the potential to be A-graders, they are not quite there yet.

Shiel is explosive from stoppages, has a beautiful side-step and can deliver the ball with laser precision. It’s easy to get seduced by players who look so good aesthetically, but he’s never proven himself a matchwinner or game-shaper. At GWS he also had others to do the heavy lifting, so how will his body hold up if he is targeted as the number-one man at Essendon?

Merrett was knocked out in Round 1 last year and subsequently struggled with a hard tag in a few matches, but he was back to his best by the end of the year, averaging 31.5 disposals per game after the mid-season bye. His season reflected that of his team, and the knock on him is how much his touches hurt the opposition, especially given how many he gets around halfback.

Even with Shiel and Merrett, the midfield still looks Essendon’s weakest area.

Andrew McGrath is another eye-catching Bomber with a burst of pace and looks ready to break out this season after two consistent years, but the little concern is that his 2018 was almost identical to the year before. Is he one of those types who is so ready-made as a draftee that he doesn’t have huge upside?

Andrew McGrath. (AAP Image/Julian Smith)

David Zaharakis, the most experienced on the list, is a nice outside player but not much more than that. Many thought Dyson Heppell was going to be a gun, but he has become just a good ordinary player.

All five players mentioned so far are better outside than inside the contest, which leaves the midfield lacking balance.

Devon Smith provided a lot of grunt and pressure in his first year at the club, winning the best and fairest, but he’s still more of a natural ball-gatherer than a ball-winner at the coalface. David Myers is probably Essendon’s best clearance specialist, but he struggles with injury and is hardly earth-shattering. Kyle Langford is a good size and is hoped to take on more inside responsibility too.

The Bombers look well balanced in defence, with a nice mixture of marking power and pace.

After almost a decade it appears Essendon has finally worked out that Michael Hurley and Cale Hooker can form the best one-two key defensive punch in the competition. It’s been a national disgrace that it has taken them so long, with both alternating between playing forward for much of their careers.

Hooker is an outstanding aerialist, Hurley is tough to beat one-on-one and they both love to launch counter-attacks from defensive 50. Aaron Francis has played only ten games at AFL level but looks well suited to the intercepting role to add even more firepower to that area – he was pick six in the 2015 national draft and took ten contested marks in the final two matches last year.

Adam Saad and Connor McKenna are two of the quickest players in the AFL and provide blitzkrieg run from the backline. Martin Gleeson should be welcomed back in a lock-down role, but he also backs himself to win his own ball. Patrick Ambrose can play tall or small and is often used as a backup when injuries strike.

Up forward, Joe Daniher returns, a player most people thought would launch into superstar status in 2018. He didn’t look right from the first round and eventually succumbed to a groin injury that clearly hampered him when he did play.

The irony was that Essendon played their best football with Daniher out of the side, and they effectively shared the goal-kicking spoils when winning their games – the Dons had eight players kick between 15 and 30 goals. The trick will now be to continue spreading the load while making the most of Daniher’s talent.

Jake Stringer was the boom recruit going into last season and did lead Essendon’s goal-kicking in the end despite John Worsfold trying to turn him into a midfielder. The fact is that he’s a power forward. He kicked three or more goals seven times last year but was goalless the same amount. He needs to be settled forward, where he can do the most damage.

Jake Stringer. (AAP Image/Julian Smith)

Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti is the excitement machine up forward, to borrow a cliche, but he does have that uniquely Indigenous knack for being able to shape a match with only a few touches. Mark Baguley has reinvented himself as a pressure forward after years as a back pocket and is applying the lessons learnt from standing many crafty forwards.

A fully fit Orazio Fantasia will be a weapon for the Dons, and it was no coincidence that Essendon had a 9-4 record when he was in the side last year. He adds even more speed to the forward line, kicks goals, sets them up and worries the opposition.

There are few easy openings to a season, but the Bombers don’t have the hardest five weeks to begin – matches against St Kilda, Brisbane (in Melbourne) and North Melbourne give them an opportunity, with fixtures against GWS and Melbourne mixed in to provide sterner tests.

Essendon appear well balanced up forward and down back with a midfield that does have some depth to it if everyone stays fit, but against the best sides they’ll be looking to break even in that part of the ground and win their games from defence and attack.

The Bombers have landed some big names in the last two years and are hoping for full seasons from big names like Daniher and Fantasia. Will it lead to a big rise up the ladder?

Prediction: 6th

Preview series

  1. Essendon Bombers
  2. Greater Western Sydney
  3. Geelong
  4. North Melbourne
  5. Sydney
  6. Brisbane
  7. Hawthorn
  8. Port Adelaide
  9. Western Bulldogs
  10. St Kilda
  11. Fremantle
  12. Carlton
  13. Gold Coast