In a short span of time training as a collective, Essendon’s VFL squad is adjusting well to a new system under Senior Coach Blake Caracella.
Getting their first taste of competitive gameplay against a strong NTFL representative side in Darwin a fortnight ago, the Bombers were able to trial their mix of players in different positions to promising effect.
The ability to impact at the contest in the early stages was a positive takeaway for the Bombers’ coaching group, even though the NTFL squad began to physically win out as the match wore on.
While the Dons weren’t able to fully capitalise on their early opportunities, Caracella believes the competitiveness of the performance spoke volumes of their quick improvement over this pre-season.
“We’ve only been together for six or seven weeks of training and we still haven’t trained all of our game plan yet, so to come up here and push a rep team (of that quality) was a good result,” Caracella said.
“I thought the players had a real crack. We kicked the first nine points and we were really up for the contest, but as the game went on, they had a much more experienced team (about three years older on average) and their bigger bodies just got on top of us from quarter-to-quarter.”
The opportunity to experiment with his line-up for the first time was a key point for Caracella, who’s looking to find a good blend between the Dons’ youth and experienced leaders.
In the case of the Dons’ midfield and their setup behind the ball, there were plenty of positives for Caracella to consider in future.
“(We had guys) that played really well like Ayui Makieng, who competed, won some contests for us and used the ball well. Our older, more experienced players like Xavier O’Neill, Jackson Hately, Ricky Monti and Jared Eckersley (at half-back) were fantastic,” Caracella said.
“Our young players haven’t been taught (our game style) a lot yet, so they’ll learn a lot individually and as a team.”
In Darwin, the Bombers were given an early chance to get comfortable being uncomfortable in unique weather conditions.
Combining an away trip with a competitive hit-out this early in the year provides a welcome boost for the side’s chemistry, both on-field and off.
“That experience helped those guys and it’s unique playing up here in slippery, humid conditions. We had maybe one less shot on goal and some really good opportunities that we just didn’t quite make the most of,” Caracella said.
“It was a real opportunity to showcase our own ability and what the Essendon Football Club stands for.”