2017 season review: Essendon Bombers

Stirling Coates Roar Guru

By , Stirling Coates is a Roar Guru

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    Essendon’s first season free of both the mental and statutory shackles ASADA had in place was a sight to behold, with the Bombers flying all the way up from last place to the top eight.

    Is John Worsfold’s playing group really back in (red and) black? Or will the triumphant exuberance of 2017 prove to be too difficult to replicate next season?

    What I predicted
    “The Bombers aren’t just recovering from the ASADA saga. They’re still recovering from ten years of (mostly) poor results on the field. They’re building something good, but they’re still at square one.”

    Prediction: 16th

    What actually happened
    Essendon got their season off to an absolute flyer with a comprehensive win over Hawthorn, although reality looked to be kicking in with four losses from the next six games.

    The young Bombers had their moments over the next few weeks, including a spirited win over Geelong and a demolition of Port Adelaide, but a horrid fortnight of unfathomable losses to Sydney and Brisbane saw them fall to 6-8 and, seemingly, off the finals pace.

    But the Dons turned it around, winning six of their last eight games in an impressive finish to the season to qualify for the finals.

    Their elimination final against the white hot Swans was an afternoon to forget, but all in all it was a very encouraging year for the club.

    Number one draft pick Andrew McGrath slotted into the side perfectly and took out the AFL’s rising star award, while 2016 unearthings Darcy Parish and Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti took their games to the next level.

    Joe Daniher had a breakout season that saw him come very close to claiming the Coleman Medal.

    Stats-wise the Bombers, as you’d expect, improved in just about every category.

    John Worsfold’s side were one of the best users of the ball in 2017, ranking third in disposal efficiency, which saw their competition ranking of third for kicks translated into second for marks.

    As good as the Bombers were on the outside though, they were somewhat fragile at the coalface.

    Essendon finished last in the competition for clearances – with their inability to win the ball out of the middle against Sydney in their final a huge reason they lost the game by plenty.

    Best win
    Round 1: Essendon 17.14 (116) def. Hawthorn 12.19 (91)

    Very little was known about how either side would fare in 2017 when they met in Round 1 but, in front of almost 80,000 at the MCG, it was the Bombers who made the big early season statement.

    Spearheaded by skipper Dyson Heppell (34 disposals, seven tackles, three goals), the new-look red and black side used a strong start and powerful finish to dispose of the Hawks by 25 points in a wondrous occasion for the Windy Hill faithful.

    Worst loss
    Round 15: Essendon 11.16 (82) def. by Brisbane Lions 13.12 (90)

    A week after forfeiting a 19-point lead with less than five minutes to go against Sydney, Essendon were keen to atone against lowly Brisbane in front of 41,000 of their fans.

    But it was another unthinkable capitulation from the Dons.

    Somehow, with a 27-point fourth-quarter lead against the last-placed Lions, they conceded six of the game’s last seven goals to suffer an excruciating eight-point loss.

    What needs to happen next year?
    Essendon don’t look like seriously contending for the premiership next season, but another finals appearance must be the benchmark for 2018.

    The playing list doesn’t have a great deal of holes in it, although the club is definitely crying out for a gun ruckman and probably a tough inside midfielder too.

    Neither Tom Bellchambers nor Matthew Leuenberger had particularly great campaigns, with the club finishing in the bottom four for hit-outs and, as aforementioned, last in clearances.

    The only other ruckman on the list is soon to be 19-year-old Sam Draper, so if the Dons are going to focus on one thing at the trade table – that should be it.

    Early prediction
    While Essendon are farewelling some experienced bodies, they do have some very promising youngsters coming through.

    There is a lot to like about the list of players aged 23-27 at the Bombers and in 2017 they seemed to find a gameplan that works well for them. There’s no reason to suggest they won’t be in September again next year.

    Prediction: 5th-8th

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