Thought you’d want to check out our new site’s 2015 season preview for Essendon.
Genuinely after the thoughts of Bomber fans and interested in feedback, as well as what the realistic aims for the season from you guys are. Obviously a lot of that will be dictated by what happens in the next couple of weeks, but we’ve tried to focus on the on-field prospects in the preview.
I’ve posted the whole thing here, sans images, to show I’m not trying to spam and gather clicks; hopefully that’s okay for the mods. I didn’t author the preview but am editor-in-chief of the site, and I come here to respectively engage - you no doubt have had your fair share of trolls. If you want to see the version on the site you can by clicking here.
2015 season preview: Essendon
By Mark O’Connor
The Bombers were 2-4 after an inglorious ANZAC Day performance, and looked to be heading for a disappointing season. The team soon picked up some of the finer points of Mark Thompson’s game plan and went on an 8-3 run, including an impressive win over Port Adelaide away at Adelaide Oval, to put themselves back in the finals mix.
The Dons finished the home and away season with two wins and a draw against rival Carlton in the last round to claim seventh spot in a tight finals race, but Essendon’s September campaign lasted just one game. A Frank the Tanking from Drew Petrie and North Melbourne put the Bombers’ weird season to an end.
Jobe Watson was the major injury concern last season, missing a good chunk of the middle of the year with a hip injury. In his place, Dyson Heppell matured into a genuine star of the competition, winning the Creighton Medal and earning a spot in the very competitive midfield of the All Australian team. Cale Hooker won an All-Australian jumper as well, while Joe Daniher was joined up forward by Jake Carlisle to create a formidable key forward pairing that should worry defences for years to come.
I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER
Paddy Ryder had established himself as the preferred ruck option to Tom Bellchambers, but skipped town to Port Adelaide during trade week. Former Giant Jonathan Giles is the nominal replacement, a significant downgrade.
2008 Brownlow medalist Adam Cooney and former Saint James Gwilt joined the expanding foreign legion, and with only two picks in the draft, the Dons grabbed the rangy and exciting Kyle Langford at pick 17 and the similarly versatile Jayden Laverde.
There have been no major injury problems for the Bombers thus far: Carlisle’s knee is being managed, Heppell’s recent knee surgery has been described as minor and won’t set him back too far, while there have been minor concerns surrounding Michael Hurley’s back and David Zaharkis’ knee.
Other than that, not much going on – you don’t see Essendon in the news very often.
It’s very hard to prepare for your season with a massive elephant in the room. Essendon has lived with varying levels of uncertainty over the last three pre-seasons, but if most of their star players find themselves suspended for an extended period, its 2015 season may well be irreparably damaged before it even starts. We’ll know more on March 31.
Soap operas aside, the Bombers have a serious issue in the ruck. Tom Bellchambers was essentially relegated to backup duties last year, but now must lead the line with support from Jonathan Giles. Young tall Joe Daniher is surely better suited up forward at this stage.
There is a tangible need for youthful excitement in this team; only Daniher, Jake Carlisle and Zach Merrett played more than 16 games from the Dons’ under-23 brigade last year.
Essendon also has a new/old face in the coach’s box, and how players readjust to James Hird’s philosophy after seemingly embracing Mark Thompson will be interesting to watch.
James Hird has rarely been out of the news in the last two years, but he’s back doing what he’s paid to do, and that’s study in France conduct doorstop interviews sit in a courtroom coach his beloved Bombers. Long forgotten in this saga is that before the AFL handed down its penalties for Essendon’s “governance issues” in 2013, Hird had his team in the top four after wins over Adelaide, Fremantle, West Coast (all interstate), Collingwood and Port Adelaide. The bloke must be able to coach a bit.
Of course, he’s now reinheriting a team that played finals under a different (and more successful) mentor, so there is likely to be some time for the players to get used to Hird’s methods and strategies, regardless of how close they are to what Mark Thompson had them doing last year.
A fit again Jobe Watson is the key to Essendon’s season. The 2012 Brownlow winner not only wins his own footy and kicks goals, but frees up the likes of Dyson Heppell, David Zaharakis, Brendon Goddard and Brent Stanton from the attention of taggers, making the Bombers’ midfield very tough to stop.
ONE TO WATCH
Speedy and clever, Zach Merrett endured a slow start to his AFL career, but the last two months of 2014 saw him play nine matches, average 18 disposals and produce more than three inside-50s per game. He especially impressed in games against quality outfits Port Adelaide and Sydney, and the left-footer looks set to be a key playmaker ahead of the ball for the Bombers for years to come.
IN THE GUN
Michael Hurley turns 25 this year and has played 100 AFL games. He’s got every physical tool a player could hope to have, but seldom does he display the talent that he undoubtedly possesses. Whether it’s as a defender or an attacker (Mark Thompson had him down back permanently, but Hird has played him at both ends), Hurley needs to make 2015 the year he moves from ‘promising’ to ‘legitimate’.
B: Dustin Fletcher – Cale Hooker – Ben Howlett
HB: Heath Hocking – Michael Hurley – Mark Baguley
C: Michael Hibberd– Brent Stanton – Brendon Goddard
HF: David Zaharakis – Jake Carlisle – Zach Merrett
F: Paul Chapman – Joe Daniher – Patrick Ambrose
FOLL: Tom Bellchambers – Jobe Watson – Dyson Heppell
INT: Jonathan Giles – Adam Cooney – Travis Colyer – Jake Melksham
It’s very hard to know what sort of team the Bombers will be able to field in the first half of the year. If, as many expect, they are shorn of most of their senior players for a significant period of time, then it’s hard to see them winning any games in that period. By the time the big guns return, it may be too late to motivate and reinvigorate the players into making something of a season that could already be over.
A full-strength Essendon team would be again challenging for a top eight spot, but at this stage, it must be assumed that they won’t be at full strength for some time. On that basis, the Dons could easily fall into the bottom four.
We have the Bombers finishing 15th, but higher if the players under investigation escape significant punishment.