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Woosha: No limits in 2019

United on the road to 2019 Preparations are in full swing for the Bombers' 2019 season.
I'm really excited about the year. I'd love to be playing finals. We're here to win a premiership. Everything we do is around building a team that's a squad, a list that's good enough to win a premiership.
John Worsfold

WHEN John Worsfold took over as Essendon coach at the end of 2015, he heard several things about the side he was inheriting. 

"When I first arrived we talked about adding pace to the team and now people take a deep breath and say 'Mate, Essendon are quick'," Worsfold told AFL.com.au this week. 

"People had said we couldn't kick a score and our forward line hadn't functioned for a number of years. Now, people look at our forward line and there's a bit of envy with how talented it looks. And we've bolstered the midfield. It really feels like all the work is there."

One thing hasn't changed. Worsfold was aware of the finals drought the Bombers were stuck in when he followed James Hird as the leader of the club, and three years on, Essendon still hasn't won a final since 2004.

There have been reasons for that, including the wipeout that was his first season in charge in 2016 when the anti-doping bans saw his most experienced players suspended for the season.

But after a recruiting spree over the past two NAB AFL Trade Periods that has seen the Bombers net four quality players, most recently Greater Western Sydney gun Dylan Shiel, the hype has more substance. Worsfold has told his players to embrace it.

 

"It's there because people can see the squad's good. So the first part is let's pat our list management team on the back because there wouldn't be any hype if they weren't doing a good job," he said.

"The hype also says people like what they see and like what they saw throughout last year and they can see the talent in the playing group and the style of footy we're trying to play. 

"I'm really excited about the year. I'd love to be playing finals. We're here to win a premiership. Everything we do is around building a team that's a squad, a list that's good enough to win a premiership, a game style that's good enough to win a premiership." 


Senior coach John Worsfold is excited about what's to come in his fourth season at the helm. (Photo: AFL Media)

Whether you think Essendon can do that depends on which Essendon from last year you believe. Was it the one that lost six of its first eight games last year, including to wooden spooners Carlton? Or was it the one that won 10 of its last 14 games and played some scintillating football?

Worsfold's foot is firmly in the second camp, noting a far better defensive line-up that helped deliver results late in 2018. He isn't getting carried away, knowing their four losses in that period came against top-six sides Collingwood, Hawthorn and Richmond (twice).

But the former West Coast coach, who steered the Eagles to their 2006 flag, is putting no limits on what Essendon can achieve in 2019.

"I reckon it's pretty open. Would Adam Simpson have said he thought the Eagles could win it last year? Maybe. It might've been a faint 'It's going to be hard but maybe we can'," Worsfold said.

"Why can't we do what Collingwood did? Or what West Coast did? Or what the Bulldogs and Richmond did the two years before that? But it's tight and tough and I reckon there'd be 14 clubs saying the same as me."

The Bombers, according to their coach, won't play in a style that looks too different this season. But they aim to be tighter defensively, which has been a focus over summer. They feel their backline is settled now, and has built a strong level of chemistry after last season.

There are other reasons for their optimism, not least Shiel's arrival. The 25-year-old fitted their wants perfectly: a midfielder in his prime with pace, strength and game-changing ability. Worsfold said the Bombers "grilled" Shiel before he came, and describes him as "organised", "diligent" and "popular".

"Dylan Shiel gives us a bit of insurance that if there's an injury to one of the other senior guys we've got a broader scope of experience," he said. 

Worsfold points to Kyle Langford and Andrew McGrath as players to have taken their game forward in the pre-season, as well as Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti. He notes the size Darcy Parish has added to his frame, and the effort put in by talls James Stewart and Michael Hartley to cement a spot in the starting line-up.

 

He thinks Joe Daniher can still have a major impact on this season despite his heavily interrupted summer with that osteitis pubis injury, but isn't as sure about a return date for half-back Martin Gleeson, who continues to struggle with an ankle injury from last year's JLT Community Series game.

Key players Zach Merrett (ankle), Cale Hooker (hamstring), Dyson Heppell (hamstring) and Conor McKenna (groin) have also had injury setbacks, but the club expects them all to be available for round one against the Giants.

Worsfold, who had an extended break over Christmas, and his coaches haven't yet set out who they think will be in that round one team, but that meeting is not far away. He sees this as his team now; not one he took over but one he has shaped and helped build. He also knows, at least in the eyes of those outside the club, finals are the benchmark. 

"That's fair enough. That's what we're all here for. North Melbourne, Port Adelaide, us and others [missed out last year]. Why is any one of us more deserving of that finals spot than us? Teams who were in there last year aren't going to cough it up so it's exciting for the competition," he said.