Essendon 2016 season preview - Me? I Like Football

Hi Essendon fans, last year I posted the Bombers’ season preview from the Me? I Like Football site and it generated some good discussion. In that spirit, I thought I’d come back and post the 2016 season preview for the Bombers.

Genuinely interested in finding out your realistic aims, what has you excited and your feedback on the preview.

I’ve posted the whole thing here, sans images, to comply with anti-spamming protocols; hopefully that’s okay for the mods.

I am not the author, but I’ve let him know I’ve posted the preview and he’ll be here to engage! And if you want to see the preview on the Me? I Like Football site, or the upcoming previews of the 17 other clubs, you can by clicking here.

2016 season preview: Essendon


By Andrew Lowcock

Last campaign

It’s hard to believe it was only 11 months ago that Essendon scored an unlikely victory over reigning (and eventual) premier Hawthorn in Round two of the 2015 season; it even seemed the Bombers were again going to defy off-field issues and have another relatively successful season.

By the end of the season, coach James Hird was gone after a succession of embarrassing defeats, culminating in a 112-point home loss to Adelaide. Three years of unwanted headlines had taken their toll on a physically and mentally fatigued playing group, and a high-possession based game plan unraveled. Finally, Hird had nowhere to hang his hat as a viable coaching option for the Dons, regardless of off-field matters.

Forty-one players were used throughout the 2015 season as the club looked to new blood to cover long-term absentees like Jobe Watson, David Myers and Travis Colyer, and the forward line system collapsed due to poor midfield delivery and an unhealthy reliance on young stud Joe Daniher.

The Bombers ranked 15th in points per game despite on being fifth in disposal differential. In other words, they could get their hands on the footy (despite a league worst hit-out ranking) but they butchered it and were outscored by nearly four goals a game on average.

The brightest part of 2015 was the form of key defenders Michael Hurley, rewarded with his first All Australian selection, and club best and fairest Cale Hooker, who may have been on track for All-Australian honours himself until he was swung forward for the final part of the season.

Comings and goings

Even before the Court of Arbitration for Sport’s stunning decision in January to suspend the ‘Essendon 34’ (including 12 current Essendon players) for the entire 2016 season, it was an eventful off-season at Tullamarine.

The Bombers wisely decided to focus on replenishing playing stocks in the draft, securing a second top 10 selection from St Kilda in exchange for the talented but troubled Jake Carlisle (although just how troubled wouldn’t be publicly apparent until after the trade, much to St Kilda’s chagrin). Receiving an early second round pick for Jake Melksham from Melbourne was good value, Matthew Leuenberger’s arrival gives Essendon much-needed ruck experience and Craig Bird came as the steak knives in the three-team Carlisle trade – a decent pickup at 27-years-old and a top 10 best and fairest finisher in a premiership winning team just four years ago.

With those two top 10 picks, the Bombers selected Geelong Falcon Darcy Parish, widely regarded as one of the best midfielders in the draft, who will likely start as an outside midfielder with short stints in the centre square due to his light frame, and South Australian Aaron Francis, a 6′ 3″ swingman who’ll likely begin his career in defence and was rated by draft experts as having the best contested marking ability of anyone in the Class of 2015.

Essendon also focused on bringing some maturity to complement the high-end young talent: expect to see plenty of former Cat turned Sandringham Zebra Mitch Brown in a key defensive role, as will ex-Collingwood rookie Michael Hartley, given his second chance after impressive form for side Coburg earned him a VFL team of the year spot.

Alas, any hopes for an improved performance under new coach John Worsfold in 2016 were dashed in Switzerland by that Court of Arbitration for Sport decision, with the Bombers requiring experienced top-up players ranging from Freo’s much-hated serial pest Ryan Crowley to much-travelled 2014 premiership player Jonathan Simpkin to former Geelong pair James Kelly and Mathew Stokes.

Strengths

Let’s not beat around the bush: the Dons don’t have many strong points, at least not in 2016. Perhaps Essendon’s appointment of John Worsfold will pay off more than originally expected this year as he uses his decade of experience as West Coast coach to navigate the Bombers through troubled waters, though it remains to be seen whether his tactical nous has developed sufficiently from his last few years at the Eagles.

“Respected” commentators (a debatable description for Robert Walls but we’ll use it for now) havelabelled Worsfold’s game plan at West Coast as “conservative” and noted how Adam Simpson was able to take a very similar group of players to a grand final just two years after Worsfold finished 13th with them. Current Eagle Luke Shuey in 2013 even said the players hadn’t bought into then-departing coach’s philosophy in his final year at the club.

Having said all that, the current situation at Essendon isn’t one you’d like to entrust to a rookie coach, and Worsfold knows how to keep his team performing on-field despite controversy off it. Unlike the majority of his time at the Eagles, Worsfold can also formulate a game plan around a key forward. Joe Daniher kicked 34 goals in an otherwise malfunctioning forward line, runs like a two-year-old colt and takes (or at least attempts to take) outstanding contested marks. Being able to watch his progress will keep Bomber fans coming through the gates for a while yet.

Weaknesses

Jobe Watson, Dyson Heppell, Michael Hurley, Cale Hooker, Michael Hibberd, Travis Colyer, Tom Bellchambers, Ben Howlett, Brent Stanton, Tayte Pears, Heath Hocking and David Myers won’t kick a football until 2017: that’s more than 1,400 games of experience ripped out of the club. All Essendon can do in these unique circumstances is to implement a playing structure that the majority of these players can fit seamlessly back into in 2017 and beyond.

Beyond that, all indications before the CAS decision were that Essendon was already preparing some significant changes to the age profile of the playing list in order to contend for premierships in the future – the group in its immediate past form was set to keep falling short, and list managers are now setting the right course.

More immediately, the Bombers must address their most glaring on-field deficiency: the ruck. The recruitment of Matthew Leuenberger should give Essendon a fighting chance of competing in the ruck this year, although a chequered history with injury suggests Essendon will need at least one other option; hence Mark Jamar being brought out of a coaching role to play one more year and giant ex-Lion Sam Michael being given a chance as two of the club’s 10 top up players.

What to expect in 2016

In short, expect the unexpected. A new coach and a makeshift team will ensure wildly varying performances, and 2016 club captain Brendon Goddard will need to change his on-field demeanour to ensure the team doesn’t collapse too often. There’s enough young talent and veterans with a chip on their shoulder to ensure they’ll be more than competitive in some weeks, while in others they will inevitably be blown out by more experienced and cohesive units.

John Worsfold should (and surely will) expose the prized draftees plus youngsters, Kyle Langford and Jayden Laverde to plenty of senior football which will hold them in good stead for the years to come, as will playing with the likes of Ryan Crowley, James Kelly and Matthew Stokes. Even if these veterans – who if not for the CAS suspensions would already have completed their ride into the footballing sunset – don’t offer much on the field this year, they will be instrumental in resetting the club’s culture.

There will be enormous reliance on the club’s few established stars: Goddard will likely play a much larger portion of time in midfield to ease the burden on the top-ups, while Joe Daniher will again be the primary focus of inside 50 entries; hopefully one other Bomber can stand up (perhaps Shaun McKernan or Sam Grimley) to open up space for Daniher to use his extraordinary athletic ability (his weekly quest to take mark of the century may be the best thing to watch about the Bombers all year).

Best 22

B: James Gwilt – Mitch Brown – Mark Baguley
HB: Martin Gleeson – Michael Hartley – Courtenay Dempsey
C: David Zaharakis – Ryan Crowley – Adam Cooney
HF: Jackson Merrett – Shaun McKernan – Kyle Langford
F: Orazio Fantasia – Joe Daniher – Patrick Ambrose
FOLL: Matthew Leuenberger – Brendon Goddard – Zach Merrett
INT: Nick Kommer – Darcy Parish – Jonathan Simpkin – Craig Bird

The verdict

Expectations will never be lower at Essendon than this year, but the Bombers still have much to play for in 2016. John Worsfold has effectively a free year to implement his game plan before the majority of his stars return. Fringe players like Jackson Merrett, Shaun Edwards, Orazio Fantasia and others have the perfect opportunity to prove their credentials, otherwise Worsfold can swiftly move them on. Youngsters have a great opportunity to play every week and fast track their AFL development. And if no-one expects them to win a game, they can play with the ultimate freedom and attacking enterprise. Surely Essendon will defy the ultimate doomsayer predictions and win some games in 2016 – but alas, they certainly won’t win many.

We have Essendon finishing 18th.

2016 should be a stress free season for us supporters. No expectations, no real hope, so little likelihood of the usual disappointment.

Should be able to take it one game at a time and enjoy the development of Langford, Tippa, Irish, Laverde, Parish, etc, plus maybe a few insipiring against all odds wins, and Crowley getting under the skin of opponents.

Might be a bit difficult for anyone to accurately predict a best 22 when there are like 20 new players on the senior list?

I thought it was pretty balanced overall. Most pundits will have us finishing 18th in their predictions. There are a few other things I disagree with but so what?

The more that we encourage independent footy writers and sites like this, the more content will be produced and the less reliant we will be on rags like the Age and the Sun, with their teams of journos spewing the party line from AFL House. That’s a good thing, right?

Agree that it is a fair assessment. I cannot see anything in there which I violently disagree with.

Summary and best 22 needs more TIPPA…

… and a few other things.

Not enough TIPPA.
And replace Ambrose with Laverde!

I have seen a lot worse.
I don’t care where he has our team finishing up - that’s just an opinion - and let’s face it - quite possible. Last year, his ‘piece’ was garbage - this year, closer to the mark, despite a few obvious errors.

Steady on. its a piece for discussion. Feel free to write your own or debate this one, but ease up.

And Fark Carlton!

As good a summary I’ve read anywhere. Well done. I have to agree with all that you have written. We just hope the players can bring some hope and joy after three dreadful years, particularly the 2015 season. There is reason to be hopeful that the younger players will gain much needed experience in readiness for future years. The likes of Kelly, Crowley, Jamar and Stokes will pass on invaluable knowledge to the young players. We hope that most of the banned players will return to Essendon in September. Unfortunately, there are huge sums of money being offered to players like Hurley, Hooker, Myers and Colyer to walkout on Essendon and join other clubs. This would be disastrous as loosing such quality players would set Essendon back another 2 to 3 years. We’ll just have to wait and see whether loyalty is grater than the mighty dollar. It would be hard to walk away from $900,000 per year in preference to a club that really has let each individual player down, causing much worry, concern and fearful of what their bodies have ingested during the course of the supplement program.

Seems like a decent summary to me. Only thing I really disagree with is the 18th, because Carlton.

Reasonable except [email protected] CARLTON will be 18th.

[email protected] Carlton

Ah, the flog from the blog is back.

Finish 18th?!?!

Tongue punch my fart box champ

B)

What a piece of ■■■■…■■■■ OFF

tl:dr

The last line should see you banned.

Lowcock?

I was thinking Lowcock was going pretty well until landing Ambrose in the forward pocket, other positions would have raised less ire, given he is a fit and strong body, but he has a bit of proving himself to do this year to be considered best 22.

And of course 18 seems harsh to us especially with playing the pea hearts FC in round 23, where even if they could beat us they will probably prefer to tank to secure the no.1 draft pick.