Bombers News Articles

Banned Bombers come back into new world order

The start to any new AFL season will be marked by most clubs unveiling at least a couple of new faces. Occasionally, there’ll be the return of a long-term injury casualty. But never has a club had close to half a team come back to the fold after a year away from the game.

That’s the extraordinary position in which Essendon find themselves on Saturday night going into the opening of the 2017 season against Hawthorn at the MCG.

It’s a big occasion for the Bombers, the impossible weight of the supplements scandal finally lifted after four hellish years. But a lot has changed even in the 18-odd months since the 10 players remaining at the club who were suspended by the Court of Arbitration for Sport last took the field for premiership points.

The group includes veteran Jobe Watson who, in his last game for Essendon, was captain and a Brownlow medallist, and now in his next is neither, with his successor as skipper another of that group, Dyson Heppell.

There’s ruckman Tom Bellchambers who, in his absence, has been superseded as the No.1 man by former Brisbane Lion Matthew Leuenberger. And All-Australian defender Cale Hooker, whose temporary pinch-hitting as a forward in his last outings seems to have become a permanent shift.

And there’s no fewer than seven midfielders, nearly all a regular part of Essendon’s best 22 in 2015, but who return to find far more competition for a spot in the mix.

As the Bombers not only covered the gaping holes left by the CAS suspensions last year but looked to rebuild for the future under John Worsfold, the wheels of change kept spinning.

Zach Merrett, in 2015 still only a promising youngster, became in 2016 an elite midfielder, a best-and-fairest winner, and in 2017 is also a vice-captain. Draftee Darcy Parish fitted immediately into the midfield mix, and is an integral part of the engine room.

Orazio Fantasia and Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti emerged as excitement machines up forward, an area in which Essendon have long struggled. And two more supposed “top-ups” – James Kelly and Matt Dea – acquitted themselves so well they remain part of the mix.

It’s a world away from the Essendon of which the 10 returnees were last a part. Just how do they fit in to the new Bomber order? Let’s take a look on a case-by-case basis.


Including last year’s suspension, the big ruckman has played just 18 games in three years, also beset by ankle, foot and more recently a knee injury, from which he returned in a VFL practice game only last weekend. Definitely behind Leuenberger in the queue for No.1 ruck spot, though he, too, is injured. Coach John Worsfold isn’t opposed to playing both now the Dons have some nippy little men up forward, but that’s currently a moot point in a position where Essendon now look the thinnest.


Was in career-best form midway through 2015 when a foot injury ended his season. Returns with perhaps even more responsibility. “Trav has had a crack in at the centre bounces on a few occasions in the pre-season and it’s worked pretty well for us,” says Essendon football manager Rob Kerr. Colyer will spend time on a wing and could also have spells up forward. He and small forwards Josh Green and Fantasia are likely to take turns to act as centre-square “shock troopers” when more pace out of the middle is required.


The new Bomber skipper might have less change to his role than any of the other returning players. Heppell, who led the Dons for clearances and contested ball in 2015, is still No.1 midfielder, though with the on-ball division now batting a lot deeper, Worsfold might have more flexibility with his captain than previous coach James Hird did. “He might get asked to play at half-back at different times and could find himself on a wing,” says Kerr. “We’ve got a few players in that category, and he’s one.”


The strongly built midfielder has played just five games since the end of 2014 after his 2015 season was ruined by a serious groin injury requiring surgery. In a deeper midfield, he’s no longer a walk-up start, but his capacity to run with opposition key on-ballers will earn him selection more often than not. “It’s a pretty good string to his bow that not everyone else has,” says Kerr.


The former All-Australian defender was switched forward in the second half of 2015, averaging two goals a game. And with Joe Daniher still needing support up forward, it’s there Hooker will stay. “One will play higher pushing up the ground and one deep, so it will be fairly dynamic,” says Kerr. The Hooker-Daniher combination will involve some “learning as we go”, he says. “We haven’t seen a lot of these two together, and ‘Joey’ has had another good season under his belt since Cale played up forward.”


Of the 10 returning suspended players, it’s Howlett who might have to fight hardest to win a spot in the best 22. Once an automatic midfield pick because of his work ethic, Howlett, a good tackler, has more recently been used as a defensive forward. His problem is that with the emergence of Fantasia and McDonald-Tipungwuti, and recruitment of Green, the Dons have an army of small forwards. That might see Howlett squeezed out of not just one, but two parts of the preferred line-up.


The All-Australian centre half-back of 2015 was arguably the player Essendon was most anxious about re-committing to the club. Will be the undisputed general of the Bomber defence with Hooker playing forward, and fellow keys Michael Hartley, Patrick Ambrose and Mitch Brown very much support staff. Kerr says the Bombers will be looking for Hurley to provide effective rebound as well. “He’s a good kick, so we want him to do that as well as be someone who can quell a good opponent,” he says.


None of the banned 10 have played as little as Myers. Injured in the opening minutes of the first game of 2015, he was injured again in his only other appearance, giving him effectively one half of football since the 2014 elimination final. A finger injury means he’ll miss at least the first month of this season, too. That said, fully fit, Myers is a walk-up start. “He’s an inside mid with a long, penetrating kick. He’s probably the one we’d be looking for to launch the ball into our forward 50,” says Kerr.


After weighing up retirement, the 30-year-old was given a one-year deal by the Dons. Not everyone thinks he’ll be a regular with newer faces rotating through midfield. But the other side of the argument is that, relieved of the pressure of a weekly tag, with which he has sometimes struggled, Stanton can provide Essendon with his trademark endurance running from the luxury of a wing, or rebound off half-back, where he spent most of the pre-season.


Now 32, the former skipper can’t be relied upon to carry the midfield. The good news is Essendon probably won’t need him to, thanks to the emergence of Zach Merrett and Parish. That means Watson looks set to spend more time than ever before up forward. “He can certainly take a grab and he’s got reasonable forward craft in terms of his leading,” says Kerr. Watson has only once kicked more than 16 goals in a season. That may change substantially in 2017.


The Bombers are in a unique position of welcoming back close to half a team that hasn’t played for a year-and-a-half. Just how that break will affect the likes of Jobe Watson, Cale Hooker and Michael Hurley is one of the biggest unknowns of 2017, but on paper at least, their addition to the promising younger brigade unearthed last year should make a sizeable difference to the Dons.

The upshot

The big known unknown, the Bombers could make the eight, may even go top six, say our pundits. But even finishing just out of finals this year would be a “supreme effort”.

Last year: 18th
W-L-D: 3-19-0

Round 23: Essendon 15.13 (103) def Carlton 10.19 (79) at the MCG

Big questions
Can Hooker, recruit James Stewart and goalsneak Josh Green give Joe Daniher the help he desperately needs up forward?

How many of the 10 remaining Bombers from the supplements saga can be guaranteed a regular game?

Will highly-rated No.1 draft pick Andrew McGrath be a regular part of the best 22?

Did you know . . .?

Jobe Watson and Brent Stanton are the only players on the Essendon list to have played in a winning final with the Bombers, in 2004.

No less than 17 Essendon senior list players were yet to start school when the Bombers last won the premiership, in 2000.

Joe Daniher’s 43 goals last year were the most by any Essendon player since Matthew Lloyd’s 62 in 2008.

Essendon’s finish of last in 2016 was their first wooden spoon for 83 years, though the Dons won one more game than in 1933.

Ultimate Footy player ratings

Stars: Zach Merrett, Dyson Heppell.

Smokie: Orazio Fantasia.

Avoid: James Kelly, Matt Dea

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Essendon debutant Andrew McGrath may play on Hawthorn superstar Cyril Rioli

Essendon’s No.1 draft pick Andrew McGrath could be set for a baptism of fire in his debut on Saturday night against Hawthorn with coach John Worsfold saying the youngster could get the job on the electrifying Cyril Rioli.
McGrath has had an impressive pre-season, playing in all three of the Bombers’ practice matches, and Worsfold was confident the youngster would only benefit from playing on one of the game’s most dynamic players.

“Absolutely he can,” Worsfold said when asked if McGrath could man Rioli.

"How well he goes is a different question but if he doesn’t get the opportunity or if he does get the opportunity tomorrow night, it’s just a taste for him, it’s a start, and he’s going to continue to get better and be the player we know he’s going to be.

"If you want to be an AFL player, don’t say, ‘can you find someone that’s easier to play on?’. And I don’t think that kid Andy McGrath will ever ask that question.

“In the end we felt he was the right person to come into the side and play that role for us.”

The MCG blockbuster promises to be an emotion-filled affair with six of the previously banned Bombers set to make their long-awaited return. Worsfold conceded there was some risk in throwing McGrath into such a highly-anticipated match for his first game, but said the upside outweighed any potential negatives.

Small forward Josh Green will also play his first game for the Bombers after 81 games with the Brisbane Lions and Worsfold said he was thankful for his second chance.

“He’s excited. He probably felt like his career may have snuck away from him last year and he got the opportunity again and we’ve been rapt with the way he’s worked in the pre-season and he’s earned his spot in our best line-up,” Worsfold said.

Green will form part of a mosquito fleet in attack which will also comprise Orazio Fantasia, Anthony McDoanld-Tipungwuti and Travis Colyer.

Essendon have struggled up forward in recent years and Worsfold was hoping his troupe of small forwards would combine with the likes of Joe Daniher and Cale Hooker to form a damaging forward line for years to come.

“Essendon haven’t scored enough in the last five or six years,” Worsfold said.

"Three or four years ago they started to build it around Joe Daniher and he was 18 years of age. Joe’s going to come into his best years from now on.

"We’ve got Cale Hooker who’s only played maybe a dozen games up forward and we’re going to see how he matches up with Joe and then we’ve added in some speed.

“The way I see this forward line, potentially if they all perform to the level required, this forward line could be the exact same forward line you see lining up in five years’ time.”

Worsfold described the Bombers’ meeting with Hawthorn as “exciting” and the moment that most Essendon fans had been waiting for for a long time.

The Essendon mentor admitted the returning players were “anxious” and he was keen to harness that nervous energy in the right way.

“You’re always a little bit nervous that they don’t burn up too much energy but that’s why we’ve addressed it over the time and we’ve kept things pretty much normal build-up and we’re just starting to ramp it up now,” he said.

Worsfold wasn’t too fussed about Luke Hodge’s absence from the Hawthorn line-up due to a club-imposed suspension and probably preferred the four-time premiership star to play on Saturday night.

“You don’t want to finish in the top four or the top eight by playing the bottom team every week and saying, ‘geez, how good are we going’,” Worsfold said.

“You’ll finish where you deserve to finish and that means you’ve to got to show how well you go against the best teams in the competition. If you’re always relying on playing teams that are undermanned, then you’re not getting a real reflection of where you’re at.”

Banned Bombers named for AFL blockbuster

Essendon coach John Worsfold has named six previously banned Bombers for a round 1 AFL blockbuster.
(They all look the same to The West, apparently…)

Essendon coach John Worsfold has named six previously banned Bombers for a round one AFL blockbuster against a Hawthorn side led by the returning Jarryd Roughead.

Jobe Watson, Dyson Heppell, Travis Colyer, Cale Hooker, Michael Hurley and Brent Stanton will all line up against the Hawks at the MCG on Saturday night, along with No.1 draft pick Andrew McGrath.

But in a sign Worsfold is also looking to the future, there was no room for Ben Howlett, Heath Hocking or Tom Bellchambers, while David Myers (finger) was unavailable.

“They’ve prepared well, they’re going to be nervous but that’s a big part of what’s exciting about playing AFL footy and playing in big games,” Worsfold said of the returning Bombers.

“This is a massive game for the Essendon football club. It’s a big game for Hawthorn - it means a lot to them. It’s going to be a cracker of a game.”

Of the 34 past and present Bombers banned for all of last year over the club’s 2012 supplements program, 16 remain on AFL lists.

Former Bombers Jake Carlisle and Jake Melksham will debut for St Kilda and Melbourne respectively, while Port Adelaide’s Paddy Ryder and Western Bulldogs forward Stewart Crameri are also set to return.

Melbourne’s Michael Hibberd (achilles) and Port’s Angus Monfries were not considered for selection.

In other selection news, Hawthorn skipper Roughead will play his first regular season game since being declared cancer-free, alongside star recruits Jaeger O’Meara, Tom Mitchell and Ty Vickery.

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SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - NOVEMBER 25: Number 1 draft pick Andrew Mcgrath of the Essendon Football Club poses for a photo during the 2016 AFL Draft at Hordern Pavilion on November 25, 2016 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Brett Hemmings/Getty Images)

Bombers to hand McGrath AFL debut

Essendon’s number one draft pick Andrew McGrath will make his AFL debut on Saturday night when the Bombers host Hawthorn at the MCG.

McGrath was the number one overall selection in the 2016 AFL National Draft, and staked his claim for selection during the JLT Community Series as he impressed across half-back.

Essendon coach John Worsfold believes in the 18-year-old, and said he wanted McGrath to just go out there and enjoy his first game.

“We just want him to back himself in and believe in himself,” Worsfold said.

“Your first game is always a massive learning curve. He’s played in the JLT Series but this game will just be so exciting for him.

“We’re not expecting him to be a game breaker, we just want him to get out there and enjoy the experience.”

In more big news surrounding Saturday night, the match will mark the return of the banned Bombers after they sat out 2016 due to a season-long doping ban.

Led by new captain Dyson Heppell, several stars such as Jobe Watson and Michael Hurley will return to the Essendon line-up, as excitement levels grow around the club.

“We’re really excited about it – there has been a lot of things happening over the summer with the biggest one just being getting the group back together and also having new draftees coming through,” Worsfold said.

“Everyone is really pumped about round one and we’re all looking forward to it.”

Nice thread & idea. We’ve had many start up over the years for media, clips, radio audio articles etc, that eventually died, but for some reason, I think on discourse, this one just may roll on.

One to go through & read when you have a bit of spare time…


Yeah, there is so much out on the interwebs that it would be great to have them in one spot for our Blitz delight.

How good is Scotty Lucas? Legendary player and I like his insight into the game. His segment on the SEN Run Home show including the Woosha interview.

You are putting the links, but perhaps you should also be crediting the source and author to avoid copyright probs.

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Friday footy panel or whatever with destoop and lucas is on par with the blitzcast.

Yeah it’s great.

Makes me wonder why their own media guys are bothering to continue their podcast at all.

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AFL 2017: Essendon fans to walk as one to MCG on Saturday night before round one Hawthorn clash

Rick Edwards, Moonee Valley Leader
March 24, 2017 1:18pm

LONG-suffering Essendon supporters will literally take the first steps towards a new era on Saturday night when they walk together from Birrarung Marr to the MCG.

The fans’ walk will kick off at 6pm, reaching the MCG ahead of the Round 1 clash, with the Essendon side to feature the likes of Jobe Watson, Michael Hurley and new skipper Dyson Heppell.

The stars will return after their 12-month suspension, to face arch-rivals Hawthorn.

The club has organised the walk – in conjunction with key fans – to include club legends such as Kevin Sheedy, Dustin Fletcher and Terry Daniher. It follows a fan-driven walk to the MCG for the Round 2 game last year to show support for the then-12 World Anti-Doping Authority banned Essendon players and for the players still at the club. Last year’s walk attracted 15,000 but this year that figure is expected to be at least 20,000.

Sam Burridge from Moonee Ponds says he and other Bomber fans will probably need to pack some tissues for the night, which will signal an end to a tough four years for fans.

“The supplements saga was difficult at times. I remember when the club first self-reported I had mates ragging me out who I just cut off. Some of them I talk to now that it’s over but some I don’t,” he said.

“The walk will be a proud moment. It will just send out such a statement to the rest of the AFL and sport in general that this team has been through a heck of a lot and wouldn’t have survived if not for the fans.

“I was listening to Bomber Radio this week and they talked about how a Kleenex or two might be needed and that’s probably how I will feel. Even during the JLT game against Collingwood there were a few Bomber fans choking up as the players ran out and that wasn’t even a proper game.”

Ash Lamb will travel 10 hours by bus then train from Bermagui in NSW to get to the walk and then the game against Hawthorn.

Mr Lamb, who grew up close to Windy Hill and went to school in Niddrie, will meet up with his younger sister Amanda for the walk.

“I expect it to be very exciting,” he said.

“All our penalties have been served and this walk will put a full stop on the whole saga. We have a clean slate.

“All the negative media coverage over four years has been really hard but what it’s done is actually increase my resolve and support for the club.”

*Read how Essendon fans survived four years of the supplements saga in “We Are Essendon”, available from


‘We don’t really know’: Essendon skipper Dyson Heppell uncertain in 2017

James Willoughby
Sport Editor

Heppell celebrates a 2015 goal. Photo: Getty

If you are unsure what to expect of Essendon in 2017, you’re not the only one.

As the Bombers prepare to open their campaign against Hawthorn at the MCG on Saturday evening, no pundit in football can agree on what they will produce.

Has there ever been a greater unknown ahead of an AFL season?

Essendon won just three matches last year and finished bottom as many of the club’s blue-chip talents – including captain Dyson Heppell, Brownlow Medallist Jobe Watson and talls Cale Hooker and Michael Hurley – sat out the season with drug bans.

But they all return in 2017 and, coupled with the increased match experience given to the club’s young stars in their absence, Essendon seems entirely possible of finishing anywhere from the top four to the bottom four.

Midfielder Zach Merrett, who is just 21 but won the club’s best-and-fairest last season, even said “we genuinely could contend for a premiership this year” on SEN Radio this week.

The biggest question hanging over the Bombers is how comfortably their experienced stars will slot back into senior football after an extended lay-off and even skipper Heppell admitted he was not sure what to expect in 2017.

“I think that’s the really exciting thing about it – we don’t really know how we are going to go,” Heppell told The New Daily.

“No one else really knows how we are going to go. That brings a lot of excitement.

“Last year gave an opportunity for a lot of guys that may not have been given games [otherwise].

“We’ve really fast-tracked the development of a lot of young boys and really progressing their game.

“We’re really excited. Obviously [it was] a very different year last year but it’s given us a great amount of optimism leading into this year.”

Merrett is the leader of the pack in terms of Essendon’s young talent but whiz kids Darcy Parish, Orazio Fantasia and Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti are not far behind.

Heppell chases a ball at training. Photo: Getty

The Bombers also added the best young player in the country, Andrew McGrath, with the first selection in the 2016 AFL draft.

That McGrath will immediately make his debut against Hawthorn on Saturday evening at the MCG is an indication of his obvious talent.

“Andy McGrath coming in in his first year, the number 1 pick – I think he’ll feature quite prominently throughout the year,” Heppell said.

As if the return of six of the 12 players hit with year-long suspensions for the club’s ill-fated supplements saga of 2012 was not enough motivation, the Bombers start 2017 with a clash against their fiercest rivals.

The game, crammed with other storylines including Jarryd Roughead’s return from cancer, and Jaeger O’Meara and Tom Mitchell’s first AFL appearance for Hawthorn, is more important than normal, Heppell says.

“We always love playing the Hawks and especially at the MCG. Saturday night, so might be looking at 80 or 90,000 fans there,” he said.

“These are the ones that you do get that extra buzz, extra excitement over.”

The “great vibe” around the club has Heppell quietly confident.

Hawthorn’s raft of off-season changes, headlined by the departures of four-time premiership stars Sam Mitchell and Jordan Lewis, only add to the intrigue ahead of Saturday’s blockbuster.

But if the Hawks are an unknown quantity, trying to read the Bombers is almost impossible. Time will tell.