In a year that started with a total overhaul of its VFL program, the last four weeks of footy have showcased Essendon’s brightest glimpses of potential yet.

The Bombers have managed three wins from their last four games, including a thrilling comeback against Carlton at Windy Hill and a well-rounded away win over Port Melbourne on Saturday, with their only loss in the last month coming against reigning VFL premiers Gold Coast in a tight finish.

In terms of both personnel and performance, the VFL squad have been gradually building consistency over the course of the campaign, working on their late-game fadeouts and growing in confidence to provide challenges against more experienced outfits at the level.

Entering round 16 just six points shy of the VFL finals positions, the Bombers’ recent form has added to an exciting atmosphere within the program, and Head of Development Cam Roberts is thrilled to see the group’s work bearing fruit.

“The consistency piece has been a real key one for us,” Roberts said.

Head of Development Cam Roberts. (Photo: Essendon FC)

“It’s virtually an entirely new list when you factor in the draftees and a new Senior Coach (in Blake Caracella) as well, but across the entire year we’ve seen little snippets of what we’re capable of and the way we want to play.

“In the last four weeks, we’ve started to build some real consistency and even in performances where we haven’t got the result (Gold Coast for example), we’ve played out the game the way we wanted to.”

Given where the Dons’ VFL program started the calendar year, the improvement across all areas of the list have been clear to see as the season’s worn on.

Following a disappointing end to 2023, a club-wide emphasis on boosting the VFL program was instilled over the off-season, headlined by a restructured coaching panel headed by Caracella, the inclusion of Matt Rosa in the recruiting department and Roberts continuing in his role as Head of Development.

With the majority of the current list in their first year with the club from various local football leagues state-wide, Roberts and the wider team saw the new year as an opportunity to hone in on development once again.

“The reality was we had a bit of an exodus last year in terms of the playing group, but we took a positive view coming out of it,” Roberts said.


“It presented an opportunity for us to refresh everything from our list, our coaching structure to our approach for what the program stood for.

“Firstly, we wanted it to be an environment that brought in people of high character and to provide a healthy, enjoyable space for daily improvement, which I feel we’ve done really well so far.

“It was there for guys on our VFL list to strive and prove that they can play at the highest level, and in doing that you give the AFL-listed players the best possible chance to get back in the line-up themselves.

“That was the crux of what we wanted our environment to be and Blake’s really led that, he’s taken charge of making sure this is a learning environment.”

The working synergy between Roberts and Caracella has helped the Bombers’ focus on getting the most out of their young talent, which has been apparent on-field with the improvement of the club’s four draftees in Archie Roberts, Luamon Lual, Vigo Visentini and three-gamer Nate Caddy.

By extension of the lens on developing young players, the emerging depth and health of the club’s AFL list has seen opportunities given to more experienced players in different positions and roles to benefit their pushes for senior selection.

Archie Roberts continues to impress. (Photo: Essendon FC)

“I feel really fortunate to work within an awesome team,” Roberts said.

“Blake’s a really experienced coach in general, not just at VFL level either. I feel like we complement each other really well and we pretty often talk about the younger players coming through as our main priority in terms of development.

“With that though, we’ve seen more recently guys like Dylan Shiel come through the VFL program, so the development even extends to experienced players too and helping them get the opportunity to return to top-level footy.

“I couldn’t speak highly enough of all the draftees too with their attitude and the way they’ve bought into the VFL program at different stages.

“Archie’s been super consistent in playing on a wing, Luamon’s shown snippets of his capability and potential as a first-year player, Vigo’s a bit of a project that just does things a lot of guys at 204cm tall can’t do, and it’s been great to see Nate earn an AFL debut and strut his stuff on the big stage.”

Aside from just their AFL-listed talent, unearthing consistent VFL performers has been another highlight from Essendon’s year to date, whether it’s been from the young core of players or more experienced recruits.

With the mid-season draft becoming a common ground for VFL talent to take the next step, Roberts has been impressed by the Dons’ reserves contingent.

“It's about developing and helping every single person who comes through this program,” Roberts said.

Tom Toma’s a perfect example, even though he’s slightly older than the main demographic we’ve got amongst the group. He’s a seasoned body, well-conditioned, played a lot of footy and his ability to run is right up there with AFL standard, so having him in has complemented some of the younger guys really well.

“Even in the last two weeks, we’ve seen Jack Jedwab and Jared Eckersley step up and play some great footy forward of centre. We’ve got kids like Matthew Foley coming through from our NGA program and he’s played a terrific role for us over the whole season, building off a couple of appearances last year.

“To see Campbell Gray get drafted to Richmond mid-season was terrific and we even had a few other guys in consideration around that time as potential draftees, so that’s been really promising for us as well.”

The Bombers’ VFL progression was perhaps best highlighted against Collingwood a fortnight ago, where their on-field chemistry looked as clean as its been all year.

A hard-ball win from Solly McKay in the third term of that game led to an 11-pass handball chain down the ground finishing in an Eckersley goal, an impressive passage that embodied the changing fortunes for the side in recent weeks.

It’s those moments and the energy felt in celebrating them which have provided Roberts and the coaches a clear view on how the program is faring near the business end of the season.

“We talk (as coaches) more broadly about this place being a world-class football program and the VFL plays an important part in building that idea,” Roberts said.

“It wasn’t just that play in isolation, but the way in which we played that game as a whole (which was more of a thrill for us). We had 75 inside 50’s and a lot of that stemmed from the connection between our three lines, which we’ve worked really hard on throughout the year.

“We finally got some evidence across an entire game of what our best can look like when we’re on the same page and getting things flowing.

“Going through a review of the last few games, seeing the on-ground celebrations, the way players are supporting each other and getting around one another for the little wins, that’s as good as any recognition for where this group is heading.”