This article tells the story of how good our defence is and how effective our ball movement has become. 5 of the top six most efficient users of the ball are from our backline. We also lead the competition in disposal efficiency at 74.5%.
Productive ball use the turning point
Essendon‘s rise back into the top eight has been on the back off a solid patch of form on the field. After an up and down start to the season, a number of players have spoken about the bye in round 10 where instead of easing off coach Mark Thompson ramped things up.
A key focus under Thompson has always been clean ball movement, on several occasions he has pointed out it is what top sides do best. During that eight-day bye period, the Bombers clean ball movement was put under the microscope, and it is beginning to pay off.
Essendon now lead the competition in disposal efficiency (74.5%), highlighting the ability to keep the ball off the opposition, maintain possession and generate attack from clean ball movement.
Well-publicised sides with clean ball movement including Hawthorn (4th), Geelong (6th) and Fremantle (7th) are all inferior to the Bombers this season.
Ahead of the final period of this season we divulge just who the key players responsible for the regeneration of ball movement in the Bomber team are.
1. Dustin Fletcher- averages 19 disposals at 84.6%
The 39-year-old tops the list in disposal efficiency this season. He still remains as the cool, calm and collected head in the Bomber defence, hitting almost 85% off all his targets.
Many in the football world have speculated the veteran defender‘s future, yet if he can continue using his smarts down back for the Dons, and almost never missing a target, there is no reason why Fletch can not go round another year and crack the magical 400-game milestone.
2. Mark Baguley- averages 18.1 disposals at 82.4%
It‘s astonishing to think this is just Baguley‘s third season in the AFL. The mature-age recruit has been a sensational find for the Bombers, holding down the small defender position.
He is known for his tackling and defensive pressure, but unfamiliar to many is his use with ball in hand, going at 82.4% disposal efficiency this season. Baguley averages a respectable 18.1 disposals per match, mostly in the back half, and has developed himself into an all-round footballer this season with his previous defensive attributes, and now precise ball use.
3. Cale Hooker- averages 19.6 disposals at 81.4%
Hooker‘s 2014 season has gone from strength-to-strength as he surely heads towards his first All-Australian selection at season‘s end. Along with Hooker‘s defensive marking prowess and rare high-disposal count for a key defender, he also has been one of the Bombers clean ball movers.
Hooker has been the general down back, beginning many chains of attack for the Dons this season through his intercept marks and his extremely high disposal efficiency of 81.4%.
4. Michael Hurley- averages 18.7 disposals at 80.4%
A move to defence looks to have rejuvenated the prodigious talent‘s career. The 24-year-old was a high draft pick for the Bombers back in 2008, and has had plenty of ups and downs throughout his five years in the system. Yet, in what is his sixth year, Hurley is relishing the challenge of the key defensive position.
He is averaging a career high 18.7 disposals ranking fourth at the club in disposal efficiency at 80.4%. Linking up with Hooker, Baguley and Fletcher, the Bomber defence has four of the clubs top six ball users.
5. Patrick Ambrose- averages 11.7 disposals at 80%
Ambrose has been quick to join the best ball users in the team in his first year at the club. The lead-up forward has become an integral part of the forward line, working in unison with the other tall forwards in Carlisle and Daniher.
He averages a slightly less total disposals per match (11.7), yet the 22-year-old has stamped himself as a slick user with the footy in hand, going at 80% disposal efficiency.
Ambrose has also had eight goal assists, as well as booting 10 goals himself this season.
6. Michael Hibberd- averages 24.3 disposals at 78.1%
The already established smooth-moving Hibberd sneaks his way into the top six ball users going at 78.1%.
Signing a three-year deal this season has done wonders to Hibberd‘s confidence, as his average of 24.3 disposals per game this season is a career high. The 24-year-old has the highest disposal count per game of the top six emphasising his ability to hit target-after-target.
He also ranks seventh in the league for uncontested possessions per game in 2014 highlighting his ability to run and create an option in defence.