Can the Dons put aside both the off-field scrutiny and last season’s debacle to return to some sort of normality?
Essendon were the big story of the first few months of last season before things quickly fell into a gaping black hole on the field.
Essendon have again been the big story early in 2013 – this time for a much different reason – and all eyes will be on the team from Windy Hill to see how they react.
Peptide and drug talk aside, James Hird’s sophomore season in charge had so much potential when the Dons were sitting on top of the ladder with an 8-1 record but they capitulated, winning just three of the next 13 fixtures, to end up 11th.
It’s hard to say what exactly caused that enormous slide but one thing is for sure, skipper Jobe Watson was certainly not the cause, as he capped off a terrific individual campaign by snaring the Brownlow Medal.
There will still be some question marks hanging over his head in relation to the drug probe but I’m sure in the end it will all come up positive for the Bombers, especially where Watson is concerned.
His role as both an in-and-under ball-winner and a competent finisher will again be paramount in 2013 but he will require plenty of assistance in the form of Brent Stanton, who was on fire last year before being hampered by injuries.
2011 Best and Fairest David Zaharakis (13 games last season) and young gun Dyson Heppell will also need to step up.
A major worry at Essendon is wondering where the goals will come from if the likes of Stewart Crameri and Michael Hurley do not fully blossom as key forwards.
However, reports are that Hurley is flying this pre-season. Angus Monfries is gone and you cannot rely too much on the consistency of Alwyn Davey and Leroy Jetta, although at least they are game-busters who are capable of winning matches on their own accord.
Scott Gumbleton needs to step up and could force Hurley to defence if he can find form and fitness. Double that with the possible emergence of Joe Daniher as a key leading forward and there are a few things to get excited about in the forward 50.
However, plenty needs to go right for this to occur.
Daniher would likely have gone at pick one in the draft if it were not for the father/son rule, so there is plenty to like about the 201cm, 18-year-old.
However, he will be under a lot of pressure to perform.
Youngsters such as Jason Ashby, Nick Kommer, Dylan van Unen, Nick O’Brien and Elliott Kavanagh could add some extra depth as they will be pushing for senior footy in 2013 and the fact that the club was so dominant at times last season suggests there are plenty of wins around the corner.
A major addition is former St Kilda star Brendon Goddard who can be used smartly across half-back, through the midfield and also as a pinch-hitting forward. However, I fear the Bombers, even with his presence, may struggle to put it all together after a mentally sapping 2012.
Predicted finish: 12th
Jobe Watson – The heart and soul of Essendon. Everything revolves around the reigning Brownlow Medallist.
Michael Hurley – Could be a star at AFL level if he can get his fitness tip-top and find consistency. Also needs to find his preferred position.
Brent Stanton – Ball magnet with pace to burn who is so often the Dons’ barometer.
Break out potential
Michael Hibberd – The tight-checking defender missed part of last season with injury but with the more football he plays is expected to continue his rapid development.
Jake Carlisle – Rising Star nomination last year in what was arguably his breakout season but can consolidate on that and take the next step.
Jake Melksham – It’s now or never for the top 10 draft pick. He really needs to step up after 59 games experience.
Jason Ashby – Half-back developing very well. Could play a similar role to Dyson Heppell if he can break into the senior team.
Nick O’Brien – Super fit and very disciplined and may emerge as a talented forward/midfielder.
Joe Daniher – Giant of a forward with massive wraps and expected to see plenty of game time.
Elliott Kavanagh – Essendon’s first draft pick in 2011 is a midfielder who needed a full pre-season and should be ready to push for senior selection in 2013.
Brendon Goddard – The versatile, classy and consistent former Saint will bring plenty to the Bombers line-up.
Angus Monfries – Port Adelaide
Mark McVeigh – retired
Sam Lonergan – Richmond
Worth a punt
Jobe Watson – to win Brownlow Medal: $8
Joe Daniher – to win Rising Star: $21