You could be forgiven if you assumed it was all over for Essendon.
Well, considering that’s what has been the general media rhetoric during this off-season. From pre-season injuries and homesickness to leadership group changes, there has been a lot going on at Tullamarine.
Starting from the top, injuries. A string of key players have all have had interrupted pre-seasons. Not to mention Conor McKenna’s yearning for home, which has resulted in his surprise return to Ireland. It’s hard to try and formulate an argument as to how this all can be considered somewhat positive for the Bombers ahead of the 2020 season. But from what I can gather, the majority of these injuries are minor and should not be a huge hindrance to their Round 1 aspirations. Tick.
Unfortunately, this does exclude Joe Daniher and potentially Tom Bellchambers. Naturally, let’s focus our attention directly onto Daniher.
The Joe Daniher trade dilemma was a simple one for Essendon: either force Sydney’s hand into trading two first-round picks or one first-round pick plus a ready-made player, or hold Daniher to his contract, and hope that he stays healthy and re-discovers his love for the red and black, or reap compensation picks if he completes his contractual obligations for 2020 and walks out as a free agent. Essentially a win-win, right?
Not exactly. I wager the Dons didn’t foresee Daniher’s groin injury to be as troublesome as it has been, thus giving the trade dilemma a hypothetical third option: Daniher’s groin being so damaged that he can never get back to playing continuous footy again.
In this situation, the Bombers lose Daniher in a footballing capacity for the year, and face the possibility of no other clubs claiming him as a free agent, in turn losing both Daniher’s trade value and/or the opportunity of compensation picks.
Luckily for Essendon, Daniher’s injury does not look irreversible and he should be returning to the field by the middle of the season. Reports have surfaced that Daniher has now been taking part in low-contact training drills and has eventually started running, meaning that the third option now seems unlikely, sending Essendon back into their win-win position mentioned earlier. Tick.
Essendon’s leadership team has been altered by 80 per cent since 2019. At first glance that does seem to be inherently damaging to the culture of the club. However, upon further inspection of who was added into the leadership group, you find experienced and loyal players personified by Dyson Heppell, David Zaharakis and Michael Hurley.
If you continue down the list, you will see newer players to the club who have had valuable exposure to finals footy in Devon Smith and Dylan Shiel. With Smith and Shiel, you will find not only said exposure, but also finals wins.
This is especially important to Essendon considering their dearth of finals wins among the players on their list. Jake Stringer and new recruit Jacob Townsend, alongside Smith and Shiel, are the few players on the list to have won a final. The finals toughness these players bring will help to support the team throughout the club’s potential finals campaign. Another tick.
Yes, the ousting of Zach Merrett, 24, from the leadership group rightly shocked the public. But real strength is shown in the face of adversity, or that is at least what we can reasonably assume given Merrett’s response to his demotion from the vice-captaincy.
Merrett explained that he will use the leadership setback as an opportunity to improve himself, and that his first stint in the leadership group gave him rich learnings that he could take forward. Although the news of Merrett not receiving enough votes to stay a part of the leadership group was jarring to grasp, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it is the end of the world for Merrett, and it looks as though it will fuel him to continue growing for the Bombers. Yep, tick.
This year looms as a do-or-die for Essendon. Their fans are owed a taste of success. The objective for this year is as simple as it has ever been: win a final.
This should be the year that it finally happens.