Essendon are one of if not the most improved team in the competition.
Many pundits were picking a bottom-four finish with Xavier Ellis predicting a wooden spoon and while they’re still technically a game out of the bottom four, they’ve exceeded all expectations.
The 41-point loss to Geelong showed a young side who aren’t quite there yet but their percentage of 98.6 (the best outside of the eight) shows the vast improvement. However, the holes in their game prove one thing: the rebuild is up and running, but what they do next is even more critical.
Their current draft hand reads nine, 46 and 51. It doesn’t really inspire a lot of excitement, even if you don’t compare it to the three consecutive single digits of last season that got them the ‘unicorn’ Nik Cox and Archie Perkins (who have both been very good this year) plus Zach Reid, who looks a decade-plus key back for the future.
However, in order to truly get to the next level – competing for finals and winning one (and for Bombers fans, the big dance) – here are four simple things the Dons must do to propel them forward.
1. Don’t fight too hard for Jake Stringer
There’s no doubt Stringer has brought some elite form in the three weeks since the bye, with a return of 8.4 in front of goal and averaging 26 disposals a game. He’s looked much more consistent. But this is only a three-week stretch in 14 games. Ultimately, there’s two ways to look at this: he’s proving his worth to the club or he’s upping the asking price.
If a club comes to Essendon with a first-round pick for Stringer, take it. To have pick nine and a pick between ten and 18 as well as two third rounders is a lot better than asking for too much for ‘The Package’, who will be 28 in April. If he stays, that’s good too, but please, forget any of this $700,000 rubbish and anything longer than a two-year deal.
2. Put Dylan Shiel on the trade table
Darcy Parish is top three in the Brownlow at the end of Round 15, make no mistake about it. With Parish and Zach Merrett dominating in the guts, the third mid was Andrew McGrath and although he was having a good year, he copped a season-ending injury.
Dylan Shiel and Jye Caldwell were depth options too but their injuries were what made Parish thrive. Caldwell is 20 and there until 2024 but Shiel is 29 in March and there until 2024. The question that needs to be asked is whether he is really worth it? Especially with Parish taking his spot and having a year far better than Shiel has had in his career.
Pick 49 needs to be on the table with Shiel for a first round and future something or two second-round selections. For this draft, look at Port Adelaide’s pick 14, Richmond’s pick 16, Gold Coast’s pick 19, North Melbourne’s pick 20 and Carlton’s pick 24 for a return on the investment in this draft and a future second.
Add in the pick for Stringer and a draft haul of nine and two picks between ten and 24 means there are three more young players to help strengthen the core of the Dons. Jye Caldwell is around until 2024 and adds depth in the midfield and one of those three picks can be a very good young midfielder, even with Andrew McGrath coming back into the side.
3. Figure out what to do with all your failed tall forwards
Harrison Jones has come on in leaps and bounds this season, with his aerobic prowess especially on stage. He is having a problem or two with his goal-kicking but like any fan will tell you, if a young tall gets chances, he’s halfway there. Cale Hooker is ninth in the Coleman Medal and tracking brilliantly, but at 32 years of age, Essendon need to get Jones a number two.
Jayden Laverde and James Stewart have been thrust back, to help with a Michael Hurley-sized hole and applied themselves strongly enough, but don’t have the runs on the board to be able to go back forward.
Add in Mason Redman, whose partnership with Jordan Ridley is elite, Aaron Francis has to come back, plus Patrick Ambrose, Brandon Zerk-Thatcher and Jayden Laverde are all out of contract so if the Bombers can sort out their key-back depth chart and stick to it, they’ll be all the better for it.
When it comes to a number two, Essendon matched Richmond’s bid at pick 39 for Josh Eyre but with Adrian Dodoro’s comments about Eyre, it doesn’t produce a lot of confidence in that Eyre is the next centre half forward. His comments are below.
“Josh is one of those guys who has amazing athleticism. He’s 199 centimetres, but he could play on the wing, half back, half forward and pinch hit in the ruck.”
As amazing as a player that sounds like, he does have a booming left boot and looks like he has good hands so if he is another Nik Cox style ‘unicorn’ as Dodoro seemed to state, draft another tall forward and if Eyre is your centre half forward, get some games into him if you can (especially in the back end of 2021 when it seems Jones is tiring a touch) to see what you need.
4. Don’t pay $700,000 for Adam Cerra and leave free agency alone
The Bombers’ list is in really good shape, with 22 players having senior experience aged 24 or under. That is an elite young core that needs to be added to, not overrun by 26-29-year-olds from other clubs.
Hawthorn getting Tom Mitchell, Chad Wingard and Jaeger O’Meara was good on paper but given the picks used were on Jack Bowes and Xavier Duursma, and the Swans ended up using pick 14 for Mitchell to trade for picks to get Ollie Florent and Will Hayward, you can’t say it’s been a huge success.
Adam Cerra looks destined to be a Tiger or a Blue but reports say Essendon are interested. Leigh Montagna on Fox Footy has said Essendon are a fit for Luke Dunstan and although their ages aren’t within the 26-29 category I mentioned earlier, don’t touch them.
The money for Darcy Parish that’s coming, give to him no doubt, but putting the reported $700,000 at Cerra (Dunstan isn’t worth that at all) is going to lose you young talent in two to three years when Merrett, Parish, Caldwell (length, not coin) and Cerra are all on long-term, big money.
Don’t do it, keep building your core and create something special. You’ve got what seems to be a very good coach and are going places.
This isn’t coming from a diehard Bombers fan. This isn’t actually coming from a Bombers fan at all. I love my footy and want exciting teams to stay exciting and the Dons are fun to watch.
A lot of Victorian-based fan-bases hate Essendon but at the end of the day, be hated and successful, rather than hated and a punchline – 6145 is a mammoth number of days since anything, if it was since an alcoholic drank, we’d celebrate their success.
Essendon aren’t an alcoholic though, they’re a team who are running out of excuses on not being a powerhouse again. But with this current group and the prospect of continuing to strengthen it over the next couple of years, who knows?