After a golden month to end the 2018 season, big things were expected of young defender Aaron Francis in 2019.
Enjoying an uninterrupted pre-season and feeling settled in Melbourne, the South Australian earned a position in the Bombers’ round one line-up, which was no easy feat given the talent available in defence.
He didn’t get off to the start he was after, however, omitted after three rounds.
Spending the next three weeks in the VFL, Francis was recalled in round seven, but had to adjust to a new role in attack given Essendon’s injury-hit forward line.
He could only conjure one goal as a forward in five games, before being omitted again.
Forcing his way back into the side in round 15, Francis found his groove in the latter stage of the season, locking down a position at half-back alongside Adam Saad, Conor McKenna, Mason Redman and Marty Gleeson.
He featured in nine of the last 10 games - injury sidelined him in round 21 – playing his part in the side’s push to September and starring in the elimination final against West Coast.
When you consider Francis had just 10 senior games to his name before the season, adding another 17 in 2019 will hold the former No.6 draft pick in good stead for the future.
Average disposals: 13.2
Average marks: 4.7
Average metres gained: 205.4
Average intercepts: 4.7
Francis saved his best ‘til last, emerging as a shining light in the elimination final defeat to West Coast.
In just his first final, Francis delivered under pressure in enemy territory, setting new career-highs for disposals (20), effective disposals (16), uncontested possessions (15) and metres gained (408).
Playing a career-high 96 per cent of game time was also a testament to his improved fitness.
Francis attempts to break a tackle in this year's elimination final. (Photo: AFL Photos)
There’s just something about Francis, hangers and season-ending games that mix.
Soaring high for a beauty against Port Adelaide in last season’s finale, Francis did it again in what was the cherry on top of a mighty performance against the Eagles.
Re-signing until the end of 2022, Francis’ finish to the season points to a big year ahead.
He’ll attack his fifth year with confidence, knowing he was able to withstand the rigours of a full season and cement a spot in a back six that conceded the least points in the league across a nine-game period.
Given the Bombers love to slingshot out of defence to generate scores, and that Francis' strengths are his intercepting and rebound, they'll rely on the 22-year-old more than ever in 2020.