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Shaw's season review

Robert Shaw  September 13, 2017 11:59 AM

The Bombers returned to the finals in 2017 and had three players named in the All Australian side.

The Bombers returned to the finals in 2017 and had three players named in the All Australian side.

Essendon finished last in 2016 only because they were missing a number of players. This season was heavily promoted as the Comeback Story and based on the following highlights the comeback was successful.

The ability of the Club to keep it together and improve was the highlight for me as, while football is the core business, all other branches of the Club are affected either way by the performance and vision of the football team.

Xavier Campbell’s off field team worked under the toughest of circumstances and did an excellent job. The Club has great potential and ability at all levels.

The Highlights 

- There were fitting farewells for Essendon champions Jobe Watson and Brent Stanton as well as fitting recognition for James Kelly and his significant contribution to his new club.

- Three players (Michael Hurley, Zach Merrett and Joe Daniher) made the All Australian team. That’s the best result since 2001.

- The Club posted a record membership figure of 67,768.

- Andrew McGrath beat a hot field to win the AFL’s Rising Star award, an honour his skipper Dyson Heppell also won back in 2011.

- The Club is on track to make a significant financial profit this season.

- More than one million people came to watch Essendon play as the Club set new attendance records.

- The Bombers were back in the September action. Luck of the draw saw the toughest of assignments, but ten other clubs just wish.

- Key sponsors were signed and re-signed.

- Essendon can now attack the trade and free agency period as a ‘destination Club’. Once they had to convince people to come, now they will get approaches.

- There was major investment in AFLW and long-term facility development.

- Compensation claims have now been completed.

- My game previews on a Friday 😉

To achieve so much and return a real Essendon feel to the terraces after years of heartache was a credit to everyone involved. The Club sold a vision and delivered. The people responded and stuck with their Club. A finals game was a fitting reward.

Statistical Analysis

A very brief thumbnail sketch sees Essendon in the top six for possession (kicks, marks and handballs), contested marks, uncontested possessions, centre clearances and goals. Essendon can find the footy and are efficient up forward.

The basic stats however are evenly divided. There is a clear line of difference between contested and uncontested. The balance is crucial. Teams can’t go too far towards an uncontested game and allow the tough contested work to drop off. 

Kicks 3rd

Handball 7th

Possession 4th

Marks 2nd

Contested Marks 6th

Goals 13.9 4th

Centre Clearances 6th

Uncontested Possession 3rd

Disposal Effectiveness 3rd

Frees For 12th

Frees Against 10th

Tackles 14th

Scores Against 6th highest

Contested Possession 13th

Clangers 6th Highest

Marks Inside 50 9th

Clearance 18th

Stoppages 18th

1%ers 10th

Inside 50 12th

Inside 50 Against 16th

- Essendon averaged 93.7 points against which is 12th overall and the highest points against of any top eight team.

- Average time in the forward line is -4m38secs - ranked 13th in the competition. This is due to the midfield ranking 15th in contested possession and 14th for differential in that forward zone only. In layman’s terms it doesn’t stay there often enough and long enough leaving the midfield exposed to quick transition and rebound. 

- The team averaged the second most turnovers behind centre in the competition. This allowed teams to ‘re-enter' Essendon’s defensive 50 and put additional pressure on our backline.  That highlights just how good the back line was for significant parts of the season.

- Tackles 14th. When the Bombers tackling pressure was on, they recorded some big wins.

The areas above should provide a degree of excitement.  There are challenges, but it's all part of the development of the group and everything is fixable.

The Coach

John Worsfold has experienced the extremes of coaching and handled both years exceptionally well. The stability and leadership he provided in 2016 was outstanding and in year two, he moulded a new group into a finals participant. The messages of positivity and progress were very well received. 

It makes for an intriguing year in 2018 with the retirement of Stanton, Kelly and Watson paving the way for additional youth development, draft, free agency and trades. Extensive review meetings this week would not only look at improvement areas of team strengths and weaknesses, but also physical conditioning, player development and game systems/tactics. It will be all encompassing and will project John into his second ‘live’ year at Essendon.

Teams are lining up behind Essendon and spots will open up in front. He will relish the challenge that will not only face his team but the whole Club in general.

 The Finals Template 





WIN BY 50+

Broke even



16 (-12)


BETWEEN 12 and 18

5   (-13)



19 (+7)

















74.2 %         (SYD 72%)








Performance Rating

Consistency of performance and regulation wins is the difference between Sydney in Sydney (week one - toughest assignment) or West Coast at Etihad Stadium. Essendon had several A-grade performances throughout the season (Hawthorn, Geelong, West Coast, Port Adelaide, Collingwood). There were also credible losses to Sydney and GWS.

Move a few of the lesser performances up the scale and the Bombers are potentially looking at fifth spot on the ladder.

It provides an insight into taking your chances when they present and not having a huge gap between best and worst.

The consistent and physical Essendon is a very good football team.

Individual wins

- The three target forward line worked well and did complement each other. Hooker helped Daniher who helped the development of Stewart.  While their size makes it harder to provide the defensive pressure of Fantasia or Walla, the tall trio made an excellent contribution on the scoreboard.

- Langford, Laverde, Francis and Redman are almost new recruits next season. They have ability and could provide great benefit to the team.

- Kobe Mutch will play senior games in 2018 and Dylan Clarke is a big bodied inside mid that with another pre-season could develop into a diligent run with player. He has character and excellent leadership.

- Injury did not allow Walla, Fantasia (inj) and Green(inj) to play the back half of the season together. They were certainly hard to contain as a group. Essendon could do with a Menzel type or, dare I say Stringer type, to add a hard match up and medium target.

- Well done to Hurley, Daniher and Merrett for going to All Australian level and Andrew McGrath delivered. He will most likely spend pre-season in the midfield group and the weights room.

- Zaharakis had a great back half of the season and Gleeson really improved in his consistency after he was omitted at one stage. His ability to play taller is important. Parish’s year was definitely a stabilising one and I expect him to really go to another level in 2018.

- Whether its developing from within or targeting players externally, the Bombers could do with a class outside midfielder, extra physical strength inside and maybe an x factor medium forward. Long-term ruckmen are always on the recruiter’s radar.

So, as expected, a significant amount of positives but more importantly scope for improvement as the side aims to push deeper into September.


There is a bit of everything to digest and analyse. The group will need to be challenged. Recruiting will again have to be creative, and development must unearth talent from within.

It will be a massive pre-season for the players and the Club will seek new horizons and initiatives, such as AFLW.

The competition will continue to be even in 2018. Essendon must face that with confidence but also great resilience and a mentally tough attitude. Under John Worsfold, the Dons now face stage three. This will be stability, improvement and consistently playing finals.

Hard lessons have been learnt culminating in a finals defeat to the seasoned professionals from the SCG.

The Club is definitely back. Now it’s time to push deep into the eight.

I would like to thank the Club and particularly Simon Conway for the ongoing opportunity to contribute with my previews and for the interaction with our members and supporters via @shawry_analyst and @EssendonFC on Twitter. Thanks, I really enjoyed it … I just wanted to write one more preview.

Robert Shaw is a former Essendon player, Assistant Coach and Life Member. He has provided independent match previews and analysis for throughout 2017.