Something is happening with the team from Tullamarine.
It appears Essendon are developing composure in the final quarter each week and intelligent football-playing minds besides the run and dash off half-back for three or fewer quarters a game.
Let’s put the season in perspective as there have been several Roar Gurus questioning Essendon’s form and top eight credentials.
At the start of the season, an article was posted with such sentiments and last week another article was posted along similar lines, but these writers may need to revise their thought processes.
Without their key full forward (Joe Daniher), without their all-star tackle wizard (Devon Smith), without all three first-team ruckmen, without Orazio Fantasia’s forward goal poaching brilliance and without their All Australian defender (Michael Hurley), Essendon did something remarkable last night by beating Adelaide away from home soil – their first away win this season.
With Dyson Heppell nursing a fractured foot of sorts, playing through the pain barrier no doubt, and Essendon falling 30 points behind Adelaide halfway through the second quarter, who would have bet on the Bombers coming from behind to win their fourth game in a row?
Yet they did just that to win another finals style match given the ladder positioning.
Essendon won by playing aggressive football on the break off half-back, which they are widely known for, but they also won via highly contested football at the stoppages and winning their way forward via the outside corridor for the most part.
More importantly, Essendon won the game via a composed team effort with some thoughtful football and that’s what may be changing. They often picked out their players and delivered kicks with more accuracy and forward-thinking, in addition to their quick runs off half-back.
Players like Conor McKenna are now using their mind to find targets after running off half-back with dashing speed, instead of just kicking bombs forward to the opposition.
Midfielders like Zach Merrett and Dylan Shiel decided to kick for goal on the 50-metre line instead of passing short to forward line mayhem. They backed themselves in and actually kicked set shot goals. Many of them.
Perhaps someone got them all drilling kicks from set shots in the last month?
Players like Jake Stringer have adapted to play relentless teamwork-oriented football alongside their outrageous skills and tackling. The young defenders have stood up without Hurley, allowing Hooker to go forward and transform another football game with key forwards missing for the second or third game in a row.
And what can we say about mercurial Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti? He played a different role, playing deeper and running down every player in sight after his match-winning goal last week.
At the start of the season, I said Essendon were a five-to-seven placed prospect. It was another rough start to the season, which had Dons fans reaching for the headache pills.
On top of that, there was a rather unfortunate umpire memory lapse about the clear rule that concedes a free kick where any opposition team member climbs the goal post when a player is kicking for goal, and some very questionable umpiring in the Anzac game against Collingwood, where Essendon lost by four points yet won three quarters of football.
It was clear the Bombers looked to be unlucky on top of the poor start. Those eight points (or, at least four points) could have seen Essendon sitting second on the AFL ladder this morning or inside the top four.
We cannot dwell on such misfortune, as results cannot be changed – especially when relying on the AFL to do the right thing and overrule such a huge breach of umpiring and player madness.
I have never seen a player climb a goal post so high and never seen the AFL write such an insipid explanation for such a major error in umpiring. I digress.
The results from these games onwards leave me to think Essendon are a solid top-eight team, especially given their injuries over the course of the season and, in particular, the last half a dozen games.
We can confirm Essendon have work to do against top four teams that beat them well after the season got rolling properly, namely the likes of Geelong, West Coast and Richmond. The Bombers like dry ground for their elite running style and pace and gave Brisbane a good beating which seems like a pretty good result now.
I realise the season is not done yet and Essendon’s percentage is one of the lowest in the top eight, which means they may need to make the final eight by one outright win, making their job a tad more difficult.
It could be very close still if they can’t finish on level points with the teams placed fifth to eighth with inferior percentage.
I don’t believe the club can finish top four either, but this is a team with a core of young players only getting better in McKenna, Mason Redman, Martin Gleeson, Matt Guelfi, Mark Beguely, Aaron Francis, Darcy Parish, Andrew McGrath, Jordan Ridley, Brandon Zerk-Thatcher and hopefully a new agile ruckman in Sam Draper.
There are more as well. For the first time in over a decade or more, Essendon has depth emerging in the squad and plenty of time with them.
These are in essence baby Bombers. Remember that team anyone?
Sure they may still lack an inside midfielder that has eluded them since Jobe Watson left.
We can confirm Essendon is decimated with key injuries and the Gold Coast game must not be taken lightly after four huge finals-style matches.
Funny results have happened all season but a win up at Vegas on the beach would give Essendon a big chance before another round of finals-style matches with Port Adelaide, the Bulldogs and Collingwood.
Not to mention another two matches interstate after last night’s trip to Adelaide.
If only Essendon could have a seven-game run-in at the MCG like Richmond instead of playing at five different grounds in the last seven games going interstate three times.
We can’t make excuses as that’s football thanks to the wonderful fixture planning by the AFL.
The injuries still make it difficult for Essendon but maybe everyone can start to acknowledge that Essendon are a top-eight team even if they have not reached the heights of a top-four team without their full complement of elite players available consistently all season let alone the exodus since Hurley, Fantasia and all three ruckmen went down let alone Heppell hanging missing a few games as he soldiers on.
Let’s hope Gold Coast don’t provide another 50 to 1 upset this season which seems to happen each round this year.
Let’s also hope Heppell can keep playing through the pain barrier with a genetic foot disorder. Maybe he should have the operation immediately at the end of September as next year Essendon will need its captain to enjoy pushing those baby Bombers to the top four.
You never know, Essendon could win a finals game and silence the doubters, let alone win two of them, but it’s hard to predict with the long term injured players they have probably not coming back to play this season.
Next season could get very interesting Bombers fans.
Dear Santa, please let Essendon re-sign Sam Draper so we can have an agile young ruckman for the first time since Paddy Ryder left – even if Draper needs more experience and is a gamble.
Icing on the cake. Please find an elite inside midfielder. Nat Fyfe would be fine. Result from cake baking with these requests granted is a premiership flag. Happy for this note to go to Adrian Dodoro.