It was the last home game for Aaron Sandilands and Hayden Ballantyne.
It’s safe to say that 2014 was hardly smooth sailing for Essendon off the field, but at least the team managed some consistency in the face of the ongoing ASADA saga.
Under former coach Mark Thompson, the Bombers managed to return to finals footy, before crashing out to North Melbourne in the first week.
So how’s 2015 going to pan-out? Let’s take a look at the seven untold stories surrounding the club.
1. Drug-free season
With all of the hype around Essendon’s 2015 season revolving around looming suspensions from the supplements saga, it has not been reported that with these sanctions imminent a two-year debacle is almost over. For Essendon’s playing list, once the sanctions are known there should finally be a sense of closure.
Sanctions may be bad, they may be good in the grand scheme, but either way it means that the focus for the entire Essendon playing group can go back to football. This is a club that has thrived at various times during the lengthy saga and have capitulated at other times. It could be that Essendon do return to a sense of consistency and norm with speculation gone.
2. Opportunity knocks
Essendon have received concessions to top-up their list for the pre-season with a contingency plan in place for the premiership season. Those two recent developments suggest that sanctions are looming. What this will mean is that opportunity will come for pretty much every young Essendon footballer. The general belief is that young players need time to develop before they can have an impact at AFL level, but in the case of Essendon draftees they may find themselves thrust into games and key roles.
The simple thought would be that this will leave Essendon severley undermanned and overwhelmed, yet those that know the rapidly changing mindset of Gen Y and Gen Z know that it is instant gratification and there is a real belief in receiving opportunities over earning them. It could be that Essendon actually surprises with this young remaining core driving the club beyond wildest expectations.
3. Returning decisions
So if players are able to grab and make the most of opportunities for Essendon, the club could find itself in a very difficult position of trying to fit in previous best 22 players at the expense of players who may have performed above expectation. It is probably the ideal scenario to have for Essendon if sanctions do affect the season, but still means even after the event and after the sanctions there will be more drama to come.
4. On-field reaction
What reaction Essendon gets from rival clubs is another intriguing subplot of the season. Over the past two campaigns Essendon has had to deal with hostile crowds with the team feeling the brunt of discontent with the handling of the ASADA case. It will be interesting to see if public sentiment changes during and after sanctions are felt.
5. Old heads
One of the lesser discussed parts of the Essendon list is that its recruiting drive over the past two seasons has been on veterans who supposedly are to give Essendon an edge in a premiership push. Depending on sanctions, that premiership push is unlikely and means players like Paul Chapman, Adam Cooney, James Gwilt and Jon Giles are in very different situations than when they signed.
This is most noticeable with Cooney and Chapman, who ideally would have had their games and minutes capped over the season. Now with the list potentially going to be cut to the bone, the dependance on these two may be far greater. That could result in long-term pain and could prematurely end the career of these two high profile recruits.
6. The fixture list
The start of the season is tough for Essendon, as has been widely reported, but really greater insight should be going into the second half of Essendon’s fixture when they may have their best list available. In the final six weeks Essendon play just one finalist, that being Richmond who finished eighth. It is a very tasty end to the season and means that Essendon should have the ability to make a late charge, either to play finals or avoid a wooden spoon.
7. Hird it before
In his first two years James Hird proved to be a coach that could really coach on emotion and could get a real emotional connection and emotional performance from his charges. For much of the 2013 season he relied on an ‘us versus them’ mentality to drive his team. He tried to protect the players from the external talk.
If anything that is what has driven Hird as a coach. If Hird is to survive sanctions to players he will need to change as a coach. How player reaction changes inside the Essendon sanctum may mean that Hird is confronted with a different playing mind set. Either way the ability to inspire with a war like mentality is going to be gone for Hird, and he will need to win games with his tactical mind and through true development in what could be a very young playing core.