The Essendon Bombers spent the entire trade period in 2019 flying evasive manoeuvres trying to keep hold of Joe Daniher, only to drop him cold and take the early compensation pick in 2020 free agency, ironically at the same value of Carlton’s pick from 2019 that caused such dramas for Sydney and the Gold Coast.
On the first day of the second trade window, the Bombers landed a home-grown replacement for Daniher in Peter Wright for a mere fourth-rounder, which could well turn out to be the most underrated move of the entire 2020 horse-trading period.
There was a touch of de ja vu this year, with Adam Saad nominating Carlton as his preferred trade destination and again the reluctance from the Blues in relinquishing such an early pick stalling trade negotiations, yet with a pair of high picks in hand the Bombers added a little sweetener and got their flush of picks.
That left Adrian Dodoro with what he needed in order to do what was necessary to land a big fish on the final day of trading, however, all he managed to achieve was swapping Orazio Fantasia for Jye Caldwell and getting Nick Hind back from St Kilda.
The picks involved in all the swaps meant that Essendon ended up with a draft hand consisting of a trio of first-rounders and some late picks to match bids on their pair of NGA-tied talls, with a future second-rounder going to the Giants and future fourth-rounder off to the Suns, but a 2021 third-round pick stashed away.
In one of the more dramatic top-order draft calls, it looked like the Bombers might get a slider out of the top-rated players when Elijah Hollands was still on the board at Pick 7, yet Gold Coast took him and Essendon had the call with the seven most highly-fancied players already claimed.
At Pick 8, they took the draft bolter Nikolas Cox from the Northern Knights, then with Pick 9 they grabbed Archie Perkins from Sandringham Dragons and then they snapped up Zach Reid from Gippsland Power.
Later in the draft, as they positioned themselves for two final picks while wary of a strike on their NGA prospects, the Bombers were ready when Josh Eyre attracted a bid at pick 39 from Richmond and they matched it, returning serve with a bid on Maurice Rioli Jnr which was very quickly matched by the Tigers.
When the Bulldogs put a bid in for Cody Brand, the Bombers were ready to match and close up shop for the draft having secured four key position players and a quality midfielder.
Cox is the unicorn of the 2020 draft. Where other top players have senior experience or bottom age success, Cox just has a complete package for a modern footballer with height, size, speed, kicking off two feet and the skill to play virtually anywhere on the ground.
Perkins is another bolter, coming in earlier than anticipated having sat out the entire 2020 season, but his draft combine scores and impressive presentation got him selected as the fourth-best midfielder in the draft.
Reid was the sixth key-position player taken in the top ten, with Essendon taking no chances on missing out on a quality tall, having been a standout performer in Gippsland’s finals run last year and demonstrating this year that he is one of the premium athletes in the top part of the draft.
Eyre and Brand both come from the Calder Cannons and although they are similar sizes, they play at opposing ends, with the former a developing forward and the latter a raw-boned key defender.
With Cox and Hind replacing the run of Connor McKenna and Saad, Caldwell adding some class to the midfield, Perkins potentially taking Fantasia’s place up forward and Wright stepping into Daniher’s role, the Bombers have more than adequately replaced their key departing players, especially considering three of them did not have large contributions to the 2020 season anyway.
The Bombers are by no means an ageing side, however, some of their best players are getting on and a few top players just left, so like the head coach, a succession plan had to be enacted sooner rather than later.
There are some players here who will slide straight into the best 22 and others who may take three years to develop, but by recruiting a group of this quality together, retirements won’t hurt with ready-made replacements already on the roster.