Ladder Position: 8th
Win/Loss: 11/10 (1 Draw)
Essendon’s 2011 marked a return to the rise that had seemingly stalled in 2010. Under new coach James Hird, the side was harder, more defensive and far fitter, leading to an Elimination Final defeat against Carlton. This philosophy has continued into the off-season, with reports of them training just as hard despite off-field struggles to find a new training base.
2012 sees Essendon look to push onward and continue to challenge in September. However, there will also be drama, with Michael Hurley a potential GWS target as well as questions over the ‘three talls’ of Bellchambers, Hille and Ryder.
Their draw is not easy though. They face, as always, two games against Collingwood, with the ANZAC Day clash always a contest. Essendon also will face two games against Carlton, as well as Richmond, North Melbourne and Port Adelaide. However, what is more notable is the four-day break that they face between their Round 4 clash against Carlton and the ANZAC Day game, as well as their final month, which will see them face all of North Melbourne, Carlton, Richmond and Collingwood to make or break their finals chances.
Jobe Watson – Watson was in Brownlow form until injury struck him down in 2011. Similar form and an injury-free year will do wonders for the Bombers.
Heath Hocking – Revealed to be almost as valuable when he was suspended in 2011, Hocking’s role as an inside mid and tagger will be crucial to Essendon stopping the big sides.
Brent Stanton – The oft-maligned midfielder is a key link in the Essendon midfield with his endurance and disposal, and will be looked upon to continue his good form of 2011.
Dyson Heppell – The 2011 Rising Star went from strength to strength, and will continue to be invaluable with his disposal and time on the ball.
Michael Hurley – The GWS cloud will float over Hurley in 2012 as he continues to build himself into a powerful key forward.
Stewart Cramieri – The former rookie was a sensation in 2011, and will continue to be a dangerous part of Essendon’s forward line.
Although the class is starting to show in Essendon’s line-up, questions of depth beyond the first-choice players as well as areas of missing quality could certainly see them struggle.
Ethan also did a preview, but fell asleep at his keyboard and missed the deadline. Here it is:
Ladder Position: 8th
Win/Loss: 11-10 (1 draw)
New coach James Hird had some work to do with Essendon in 2011, after the team slipped from eighth in 2009 to fourteenth in 2010, leading to the sacking of Matthew Knights. It seemed from Hird’s first year on the job that the team simply lacked inspiration as a man with Hird’s calibre delivered in spades.
The team rose back up to eighth in 2011, and despite going down fairly easily in the elimination final to Carlton, Hird’s men showed they had what it takes to become a serious AFL side, with the victory over eventual premiers Geelong a scalp to remember.
David Zaharakis won the best and fairest in his third season ahead of players such as stalwart Dustin Fletcher, rising star Dyson Heppell and captain Jobe Watson, showing that he has what it takes to become a prominent figure in Essendon’s midfield and forward line in years to come.
Fletcher proved he still has it (the Jeff Garlett tackle comes to mind) and his new role as assistant coach and selection panelist alongside his playing duties should only benefit the team with his now-even-more-valuable insight. Heppell showed the AFL he’s a star in the making with his assurance out of the back half culminating in winning the Rising Star award while Watson’s leadership and pure overall skill as a midfielder was invaluable despite his time on the sidelines during the season.
Looking at Essendon’s list, it seems that they’ve got the talls and the smalls down pat at both ends of the ground and in the ruck. If there was to be one weakness, it was the midfield – the losses of Watson and Hocking at various stages uncovering holes in the side. However, with players such as Elliot Kavanagh, a highly-skilled draftee, and Jake Melksham, a hard-nosed young midfielder with a full season just completed, it seems that this is the transition year.
It’s the year in which Essendon should transfer from developing the side to being the side. Their likely best 22 (or best 30, for that matter) for the next few years should come from the players they have now, and those players are young and talented. Provided there’s no catastrohpes or unlikely events Essendon won’t go lower than the eighth spot they claimed last year (nor should they for the next four or five, presuming things go to plan) and they should look to aim for a home final.
Michael Hurley: He could very comfortably slot into the Young Guns category, but Michael is a class above that. It’s actually hard to believe he’s only 21, such is his quality – capable to playing as a key forward and a key defender, presenting himself as a highly competitive and capable player at either end, and deservedly placing in the top three in Essendon’s best and fairest. To top it off, he hasn’t even reached 50 AFL games yet. He screams ‘superstar’.
Heath Hocking: Essendon’s contested king proved how valuable he was to Essendon in 2011 from the games he missed as well as the games he didn’t – Essendon did not win one game without him in the side. A former rookie, Hocking works in and under, winning clearances and preventing them, with high stats in either category, and is vital to Essendon’s future premiership endeavours.
Jobe Watson: It’s hard to ignore and exclude Essendon’s best player and captain from this list. Watson’s class through the centre and ability to win the footy and use it effectively is vital to the Bombers, as he seems to know exactly what to do with it in his hands. No doubt he’ll play a pivotal role as an inside and outside midfielder and in captaining the side, but also in mentoring the young midfielders coming through the system at Windy Hill, as the leader of what could potentially be a midfield line-up a class above most.
Dyson Heppell: There’s no doubt that Happell well and truly slots straight under this category after winning the 2011 Rising Star award. The one with the cool head in a crisis averaged 21 disposals a game, topping the club in marks and handballs, and his quality ball use out of the backline made sure the ball could keep going forward in the hands of a Bomber. Hopefully he’s not one to suffer from second-year blues and he has another prosperous year.
Elliot Kavanagh: Essendon’s first draft pick (pick 19) in the 2011 AFL draft could have gone top 10 if it weren’t for hamstring issues, and from all reportsthey haven’t affected him this pre-season. He should slot straight into Essendon’s midfield on the wing, providing pace and skill to the Dons’ outfit. Provided his hamstrings don’t trouble him, he has the tools to make an early impact on the league.
Jake Melksham: The rock-headed midfielder played every game for the Bombers in 2011 and while he didn’t soar as high as some drafted around him, expect that to change this year with a full season and pre-season under his belt. His best-on-ground performance against Geelong should start to occur more often in what is sure to be a pleasing sight for the Essendon faithful.
Final Words: It seems like the only way is up for the Bombers. They shouldn’t descend on the ladder with their list yet.