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Same old Essendon, same old inconsistent form

Cale Hooker of the Bombers celebrates a goal. (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Media/Getty Images)
Dylan Phillips new author
Roar Rookie
21st April, 2018
23

We’re four rounds into the 2018 AFL season and some teams are definitely showing improvement from last year.

I’ll mention Hawthorn and West Coast who have definitely exceeded expectations early in the season. With teams recruiting in the offseason and tweaking their game plan it’s inevitable that some will improve.

Even Brisbane and Carlton, who have been at the bottom of the ladder and are still expected to be there for a few years, look like they have improved their game plan which is great for the competition.

However, there has been a sleeping giant in the competition who haven’t shown improvement for a long time and who continue to frustrate their supporters with their inconsistency, and you guessed it, it’s Essendon.

Inconsistency has been the word to describe Essendon for years. They are a frustrating team to watch and I don’t even support them. One week they can beat a top side, but the next they lose a game they’re expected to win.

I did some research to show just how inconsistent Essendon have been over the last ten years. I analysed Essendon’s results from 2007 until 2017, which excluded the 2016 season due to them having to field an uncompetitive team. What I found illustrates the inconsistency of Essendon to a tee.

They have finished top eight four times during this period, with their highest finish being seventh.

They have finished in the bottom eight five times, with most results being between twelfth and fourteenth. Finally, what stands out is that Essendon have not been in the top 8 in back to back seasons from 2007 to 2017.

Let that sink in a bit, ten years and they haven’t featured in finals for back to back seasons. What does this mean? They’re inconsistent.

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Essendon have never gone into a full rebuild during this time, their team has been competitive but not enough to get into the top four, which they haven’t done since 2001. They’ve been middle of the pack, reflecting that they’re good enough to win half their games, nothing more, nothing less.

So why have they been so up and down over the last ten years? Here’s my take.

The coaching. Ultimately, I think the inconsistency stems from the lack of consistent coaching. Since Kevin Sheedy left in 2007, no Essendon coach has been in charge for longer than three years. This unsettled nature of the club since 2007 has been a factor in Essendon being unable to make finals consistently.

For the sake of Essendon fans, I hope John Worsfold stays for a prolonged period, then maybe Essendon might see some success.

Enter the 2018 season.

At the start of the season, footy expert David King predicted Essendon to be the premiers for 2018. A big call, but it shows how highly the footy experts held Essendon at the start of the year. For me, I couldn’t see it happening because inconsistency is currently ingrained in their culture.

I engaged in a tiny bit of analysis of Essendon’s list to come to my own conclusion about whether they’re good enough and they certainly have quality all over the park. I gave a big tick to nine of Essendon’s best twenty-two, who I believe are A grade players.

Michael Hurley, Dyson Heppell, Zach Merrett, Brendon Goddard, Devon Smith, David Zaharakis, Darcy Parish, Joe Daniher and Andrew McGrath.

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You can also throw in Cale Hooker, Orazio Fantasia, Jake Stringer and Adam Saad who I think are B grade players. There’s thirteen of a possible twenty-two who I believe are A grade or just under.

Essendon have the quality on their list so there’s no reason why they can’t make a push for top four. We could see why footy experts thought Essendon were a genuine contender coming into the season.

(AAP Image/Tracey Nearmy)Dyson Heppell Essendon Bombers AFL 2017

So, has anything changed in the 2018 season for Essendon? No. They’re still inconsistent. Let’s look at their first four games.

Round 1 versus Adelaide
Twenty points down at the seven-minute mark of the final term but were able to rally and overcome last year’s grand finalists by twelve points. They were bold in their ball movement and sliced through Adelaide’s midfield.

They recorded nineteen more tackles then Adelaide and were led beautifully by Dyson Heppell and David Zaharakis who had thirty-five disposals each.

Furthermore, Cale Hooker, James Stewart and Joe Daniher worked well together and proved a tall forward line can still be potent in the modern game. Big tick.

Round 2 versus Fremantle
A sixteen-point loss for Essendon against a team that got pummelled by fifty points the week before. They were outworked and outperformed by a team who were hungrier around the contest. Structures around the ground were not working.

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Essendon’s three-pronged tall forward line was blunted by a stingy Fremantle defence who allows three goals between them. Scoreboard flattered the Dons, but the result definitely raised some early doubts about Essendon’s credibility. Cross.

Round 3 versus Western Bulldogs
This is where it gets frustrating. The Bulldogs came into Round 3 with eighty-two and fifty-one-point losses in their opening two rounds. Etihad Stadium against a side down on confidence should be a win, right? Wrong.

A twenty-one-point win for the Bulldogs where Essendon just didn’t turn up. Safe to say that’s been a bit of a theme over the years.

They were smashed all over the park with the only thing stopping a one hundred-point loss was an inaccurate dogs side who kicked fourteen goals, twenty behinds. This game was a bit of an eye-opener as the Bombers were not willing to defend well enough and cover for each other which was exposed by a hardened Western Bulldogs.

They were not committed to their defensive structures but how can a team not commit to what they’ve been taught? Frustration galore. Big cross.

Round 4 versus Port Adelaide
What a difference a week can make in footy huh? Against the top of the ladder Port Adelaide side, who were the only undefeated team in the competition, Essendon won by twenty-two points.

Essendon bullied the undefeated Port in all aspects of the game and didn’t even give them a chance to come back and win. Great performance from Essendon, not even giving them a look in, a massive difference from the week before. Big tick.

Essendon starts the season two wins and two losses with a massive difference in performance week to week, what a surprise. They are a tipster’s nightmare. How does a team not turn up against the Bulldogs who were bottom of the ladder at the time but then turn in a great performance against an undefeated Port Adelaide side a week later?

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This is a question Essendon fans have been asking for years but I think I know why.

We know Essendon have been inconsistent due to their instability in terms of coaches and in all honesty, their struggles in 2018 are due to the same reason. Nothing’s changed and here’s why.

When a coach leaves a club and a new coach steps in, they have their own philosophies and game plan that is completely different to the coach before. John Worsfold has been in his position since October 2015, he has coached his team for one full year, 2017.

Essendon didn’t field their full-strength team in 2016 due to their drugs scandal so it’s only one year that Essendon players have been able to put his game plan in place within the competition.

It’s going to take a lot longer to become the new Sydney Swans, four to five years at least. Damien Hardwick won a premiership after a full seven years developing his game plan so it’s going to take some time for players to really understand their structures.

Essendon need to leave Worsfold in change and let the team learn his game plan inside out.

John Worsfold

(Photo by Mark Metcalfe/AFL Media/Getty Images)

Ok, so does this mean Essendon aren’t going to have success for a long period? Maybe, but from what we’ve seen early this season there’s a short-term solution.

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Essendon have the team to be a top-four side. If they can win against an undefeated Port side, that’s telling you something. Here’s what I’ve seen.

Essendon went in with three different structures in three games against the Western Bulldogs, Fremantle and Port Adelaide. The first two didn’t work, clearly. Against Port Adelaide, the Bombers started Cale Hooker in the backline alongside Michael Hurley who had twenty-three and twenty-nine disposals respectively.

Hooker provides a presence in the back half which gives Hurley the space to operate as a loose defender. Hurley is one of the best defenders in the game, in my opinion, he’s on par with Alex Rance, so Essendon needs to exploit his ability. With Hooker in defence, Hurley took five marks in the first quarter and fifteen for the game.

His precise use of the footy enables Essendon to use their quick ball movement and catch the opposition on the counter. So, it worked against the only undefeated team, right? Stick with it.

Hurley and Hooker in defence, Daniher and Stewart forward. I think this will give teams a lot of problems especially if they move the ball quickly.

So, Essendon fans, it’s going to be a roller coaster of a year and I wouldn’t be surprised if they finish twelve wins and eleven losses after Round 23. Worsfold is still working on his game plan and the players are still learning it so there’s going to be more inconsistent results coming your way.

This week’s game against Collingwood will be an interesting one. If Worsfold sticks with the structure that destroyed Port Adelaide, then I see no reason why they can’t win the contest. If it they do then maybe I’ll be able to tip 9 this week.