Ladder position: 11th
Win/loss: 11 wins, 11 losses, 100.05%
More so than any in living memory, Essendon’s 2012 was a season of two halves. The Bombers were the talk of the AFL and sitting 8-3 at the half way mark, only to see their list fall apart at the seams in the last eleven games.
There were many positive signs early on, the most important of which was Essendon’s defensive pressure in all areas of the ground. As a unit they were able to consistently choke up the better sides between the arcs, and put a few of the weaker sides to the sword.
Injury was a concern for the forwards even in the first half of the year, robbing the Essendon forward line of continuity. However with the half back line and midfield so far on top, they were still leading the AFL for marks inside the forward 50.
Brent Stanton’s running ability has never been questioned, however early in the year he looked to have dramatically improved his ability to win the hard ball as well as his defensive accountability. Likewise David Zaharakis and Ben Howlett were playing great footy through the midfield, and Jobe Watson took his game to new heights.
Tom Bellchambers and Patrick Ryder controlled the ruck most weeks as they found career best form, whilst Dustin Fletcher, Cale Hooker and Jake Carlisle shut down the opposition key forwards with regularity.
It was looking like a fairytale rise up the ladder for James Hird and his men before the longer term consequences of Dean Robinson’s extreme fitness program started to coming to the fore. Week by week the soft tissue injuries began to add up. With monotonous regularity Essendon would find themselves with two or three more players snapping hamstrings or tearing calf muscles, in what eventually proved to be one of the worst runs of soft tissue injuries in living memory.
The end result saw Essendon fielding teams with far too many underdone players, and playing like a team that had no rhythm or cohesion. The season that promised so much for the Bombers at the half way mark, eventually had the fans simply wishing it would end.
Key Man – Jobe Watson
Clearly the best Bomber for 2012, Watson is considered by many to be a red hot chance to win the Brownlow. One thing is for sure, he will win the Essendon best and fairest by a country mile. His in and under grunt work brings fellow midfielders into the game, and his work rate and consistency is second to none.
After missing all bar four games with a knee injury in 2011, Courtenay Dempsey is an unlucky runner up after a career best season this year. However the most improved for 2012 would have to go to Tom Bellchambers, who took the leap from fringe player to number one ruckman. He regularly had the better of some of the best in the business, and was often forced to do it alone with regular injuries to Ryder and David Hille.
Whilst many Essendonians would point to a dreary June night at the MCG when the Bombers failed to overcome Melbourne, the biggest letdown has to be the fitness program implemented by Robinson. The long term merits of his program will become evident one way or another in the next 12-24 months, however no individual at the Essendon Football Club could claim to have affected their ladder position more than the man they call “the Weapon”.
Another quality midfielder is number one on the Bomber’s wish list. Essendon are widely tipped to have a second try at trading for Josh Caddy after missing out in last year’s trade period, however any and every quality midfielder must be considered a target.
Expectations for 2013
Making the finals will be the bare minimum expected from this list, and expect to hear rumblings from within if they fall short again. If the Bombers can improve their fitness and conditioning and deliver better player management, they should have the talent to win their first final in almost a decade.