Essendon’s Round 1 performance was one of the hardest to read of any club, making them a tough team to get a read on ahead of the AFL’s June 11 restart.
Essendon coach John Worsfold believes his players felt the release of mounting pressure before their breakthrough win over Melbourne, not after it.
The Bombers were tentative and lethargic at times as they slumped to an 0-2 start to the season, but they were able to recapture some of their trademark freewheeling spirit in a pulsating 20.10 (130) to 18.4 (112) win at the MCG on Friday night.
Why were they able to do that with so much on the line when the pressure to perform was at its highest?
The coach isn’t absolutely certain but he has a hunch.
“There’s no doubt the players looked a bit freer in terms of their mindset to not worry about making mistakes and work hard,” Worsfold said.
“It’s not something that’s really that tangible that you can put your finger on.
“I had a slight feeling that the players thought they’d had a really good pre-season.
“They’d turn up to play, they’d be right, and they just forgot how tough the game is and how hard they have to work.”
The win was even more meritorious given Kobe Mutch was lost to a hamstring injury in the first five minutes and Dyson Heppell and Aaron Francis were among a handful of players who received running repairs on niggles throughout.
Dylan Shiel, while wasteful by foot at times, was influential with 31 possessions, with Heppell (27), David Zaharakis (31) and Zach Merrett (26) all important.
Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti, Jake Stringer and Shaun McKernan did the damage in attack with four goals each.
The confusion over off-season tweaks to the game plan weren’t as evident against the Demons.
Even so, Worsfold bristled when asked if he felt his revamped game plan had been vindicated by the win.
“It’s not my job to answer questions from people not involved in our footy club,” he said.
“I answer questions from players, our coaching staff, our club.
“We’re all on the same page with what we’re doing. Everyone has been very clear with what we’re working on and where we want to get to.
“We’ve all been disappointed with the start to the season, but it didn’t mean we didn’t believe in what we’re doing.”