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Defenders Developing

Basil Zoccali  August 13, 2016 7:00 PM

Essendon's young defenders are getting better a they learn to work together.

Essendon's young defenders are getting better a they learn to work together.

Heading into the 2016 season, the Bombers’ backline would have been considered one of the most experienced and deadly in the AFL.

With the likes of Michael Hurley, Cale Hooker and Michael Hibberd not able to feature this year, and then the added losses of Mark Baguley and James Gwilt through injury, the Bombers have lost close to 570 games of experience.

However, it has provided a great opportunity for the next generation of the team’s defenders to make a name for themselves at a senior level.

Under constant attack from the opposition, Essendons’ new back six of Michael Hartley, Patrick Ambrose, Marty Gleeson, Conor McKenna, Matt Dea and Mitch Brown have learned many lessons about themselves and each other. 

While sitting on the sideline and watching his teammates battle each week has not been easy for defender Mark Baguley, it has provided him the opportunity to see the game from a different perspective.

Speaking on Bomber Radio, the courageous defender revealed how impressed he has been with the development of the young group given the circumstances. 

“I think they’ve really improved and they’re jelling well together,” said Baguley

“I think the more those guys can play together, the more they’ll understand how each other play and their strengths and weaknesses.

“They have improved each game, so it’s exciting to see.

“Hopefully, next year, we’ll have a really solid back six and even a couple of other guys that can help out back there.”

The injured vice-captain has been particularly impressed with Conor McKenna and Patrick Ambrose, who have both flourished playing in the backline for the first times in their careers.

Ambrose’s successes have been particularly noticeable, with his athletic nature and tough game style allowing him to nullify the impact of some of the most prominent opposition forwards in the game. 

A courageous defender in his own right, the Baguley also spoke highly of Matt Dea.

Dea, who is set to play in his 50th game on Sunday, has proven to be more than a handy addition to the Bombers’ backline. 

Joining the team in January, Dea’s commitment to the contest and ‘never say die’ attitude has been a highlight for fans on a weekly basis.

Having practically made the coveted ‘Adam Ramanauskas – Most Courageous Award’ his own over the last few years, Baguley was quick to nominate Dea as a worthy recipient of the prize.

“I like to see the backmen win that award because most of them are pretty courageous, they play their role each week,” said Baguley 

“Perhaps someone like Matty Dea who has had a really consistent year.” 

The development of these young players can be attributed to the tireless efforts of Essendon’s dedicated coaching staff. 

Spending time in the Coaches’ box while injured, Baguley has been able to see first hand the countless hours of work that the top men put into developing the next generation of stars. 

“The coaches are very hands on, especially Harvs with the young backline,” said Baguley

“They understand where we’re at as a Club, we’re developing and have got a lot of young players. 

“They’re trying to develop those players, teach them to play the way that they want them to play, learn the game plan, be flexible with playing different positions.” 

As for his own career, Baguley is tracking well in the recovery from injury and is eager to get back onto the field and re-join his teammates in 2017. 

Despite having begun his career at Frankston playing in the forward pocket, and switching there at times during this season, the 29-year old knows that there is one position he wants to play. 

“Probably the backline is best for me,” he said 

“I do enjoy playing in the backline. I like it when the ball comes to you and you have a role to play to shutdown a dangerous opposition forward.”