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Bombers in review

Callum Twomey afl.com.au  September 12, 2017 10:43 AM

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Andrew McGrath became the Club's second player after Dyson Heppell to win the AFL's Rising Star award.

In a nutshell

The Bombers became the first side since West Coast in 2011 to lift themselves from the bottom of the ladder to the top-eight the following season, but were thrashed in the elimination final by Sydney. They won 12 games for the home and away season and played some brilliant football, but remain an inconsistent side. 

What we said in the pre-season  

We tipped Essendon to be the side to move up the ladder and predicted they'd finish seventh, which they did after the home and away season. And if not for a hamstring injury late in the year, our tip that Orazio Fantasia would be the surprise All Australian would have been on the money. Fantasia kicked 38 goals from 19 games in the regular season and showed he is a star in the making. 

What worked 

Essendon became one of the highest scoring sides in the competition, averaging 95 points a game with a fleet of small forwards at the feet of star goalkicker Joe Daniher. The permanent move of Cale Hooker into attack, where he kicked 41 goals, was also a positive. 

What failed

As much as they were able to score, Essendon could also leak goals. They gave up on average 92 points a game, which made them susceptible at times. They were also shown up in the elimination final for having a lack of big, inside midfielders. 

Overall rating: B+

It was a solid season for the Bombers and they made progress in certain areas, but the reality is they finished eighth on the ladder and were shown to be way off when it mattered most.

The coach

John Worsfold did well to embolden the Bombers and implement an exciting brand of play. The coach was also able to bring together a list that had been disjointed for so long and steer the club into its first finals series since 2014. 

The leaders 

Dyson Heppell returned to the Bombers' side this year as its new captain, taking over from Jobe Watson. Heppell had a strong season, playing every game and averaging 26 disposals, including a three-goal effort in Essendon's stirring round one win over Hawthorn. Michael Hurley was just as impressive as a member of the club's leadership group, making the All Australian side as a key defender. 

MVP

Joe Daniher:  It's hard to separate him and Zach Merrett here, but Daniher gets the nod after booting a career-best 65 goals and finishing fourth in the Coleman Medal race. Both of the young pair were named All Australians and it will be interesting to see if Merrett can go back-to-back in the club's best and fairest count.

Joe Daniher has been nominated for the AFL's Mark of the Year award. Vote here.

Surprise packet

Martin Gleeson: He's been around for several years, but Gleeson enjoyed the best season of his career across half-back for the Bombers. The wiry defender matched up well against a range of opposition forwards, backed himself with the ball and was one of the side's best in its elimination final defeat to the Swans.

Get excited

Andrew McGrath: It was probably no surprise that No.1 pick McGrath had a brilliant debut season, but few could have expected him to settle in quite as seamlessly. The running small defender became Essendon's second ever winner of the NAB AFL Rising Star award, and by the end of the season had progressed to be placed on the wing. Future star and captain.

Best win

Round 12: Essendon 19.17 (131) def Port Adelaide 8.13 (61) at Etihad Stadium
Essendon completely blitzed the Power under the Docklands roof, kicking seven goals to one in the first quarter and running away with a 70-point win. It was ruthless, brilliant and attacking football that couldn't be stopped.

Low point

Giving up a strong lead late in the game against Sydney at the SCG in round 14 was one thing. But then doing it again the following week against the bottom-placed Brisbane Lions at Etihad Stadium was another matter. The loss jeopardized their finals spot, but the Bombers did at least win four of their next five games.

The big questions

Are Kyle Langford and Jayden Laverde ready to step up?
The pair will head into their fourth AFL season next year with big hopes they can cement a place in the best 22. An opening will come for Langford in a midfield role with Jobe Watson's departure, while Laverde will be hoping for a better run with injury. 

Who takes over from James Kelly in defence?
Kelly has had a very good couple of seasons at Essendon and has played an important role across half-back. His impact will be hard to replace, but one idea is to use Darcy Parish as a dashing defender who helps set up the game. He's played across half-back before as a junior and wasn't given huge midfield minutes this season, so it could be a nice fit.

Can they overcome their elimination final torment?
The Bombers haven't won a final since 2004 – the longest stretch of any club without a finals victory – and in between have had four disaster elimination final losses. Three have been beltings, and the other they gave up a match-winning lead. They will hang over the club until the monkey is off the back.

Season in a song

Little by Little - Oasis 

Premiership window

Half open: There's guns down back, up forward and in the midfield. Why not? 

Who's done?

Retirements: Jobe Watson, James Kelly, Brent Stanton
Delistings: Yestin Eades
Unsigned free agents: Heath Hocking, Ben Howlett 

How should they approach trade and draft period?

They need to be active at the trade table. Essendon generally isn't busy when deals are being done but needs to keep up with the top teams in the competition and make this a priority. An inside midfielder should be on the radar, and Matt Kennedy at GWS should be high on the list. He's the perfect fit and is gettable. 

Early call for 2018

For a start, the expectations needed to be lifted. Last pre-season the message out of the club from all parties was to not expect too much. This pre-season, the Bombers should aim high. Finals won't be a pass mark and can't be viewed as such. There are enough good players at the club to mean winning a final is the only way next season can be judged a success.