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Three areas from Essendon’s Anzac Day clash that need to be inspected for the rest of the season

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26th April, 2023

Footy is a game of ifs, buts, and maybes all combined with a quantity of hindsight.

Had the Bombers been able to hold onto their 28-point lead after three-quarter time, the narrative would be so different, talking about a 5-1 start and how they successfully managed to shut out an impressive Collingwood outfit.

Instead, the focus now shifts to Essendon ‘bottling’ the four points and raising concerns around the mentality of the playing group in key moments.

Let’s not take too much away from Essendon’s impressive overall performance. Despite being comfortably rolled over in the final term, Brad Scott’s men put in a shift in which every supporter should recognise the improvement in a short period and be proud of.

As disappointing as losing in the manner in which they did, there are many positive signs that the Bombers are heading in the right direction and should be good enough to be in contention for a top-eight berth. 

Quick handball movement with overlapping runners along with strong defensive solidity should rightfully lead to confidence building within the club week by week. 

Essendon lost for a reason and there are a few areas that need to be carefully looked at and addressed for the rest of 2023. 


1. Managing and controlling match situations better

In previous years, players on the field could be forgiven for not being able to track how much time is left in the quarter. Now, that door for that excuse closes more due to the signs held up on the interchange bench. 

With under 50 seconds remaining in the opening quarter, Jake Stringer finds himself in possession with more time than he probably anticipated. From his kick, a turnover is created and allows Collingwood to capitalise with a goal right on the siren from De Goey. 

Up until then, the Pies were kept goalless and trailed by 16 points. This is where composure and the ability to read match situations come into play. 

Going back to using the word ‘hindsight’, it’s easy now to slay a player when decisions on the field need to be made in a split second.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - MAY 14: Dyson Heppell and Zach Merrett of the Bombers look dejected after defeat the round nine AFL match between the Sydney Swans and the Essendon Bombers at Sydney Cricket Ground on May 14, 2022 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Dyson Heppell and Zach Merrett. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)


However, in that instance, it cried out for calmness. Pick out a teammate, control the game and take the sting out of things to go into the break with momentum. That momentum swung the other way as the Pies kicked the first three of the second quarter. 

Anyone who thought that Essendon’s 28-point lead at the last change was unassailable could not have been more wrong, especially considering the opposition they were facing and the incredible comebacks they have produced in the past.

As soon as the Bombers felt the first wave of a Pies attack, natural instincts took over and it forced them to revert back to a defensive mindset and play conservative footy. In the moment, understandable.

In the end, it was a 41-point turnaround that propelled the Pies to triumph, proving that in future, Essendon’s game plan needs to stay consistent for all four quarters and control the game whenever possible. 

Ultimately, this all comes down to experience and learning to play with each other in a new system as well as adapting to a new coach. 

Carlton faced the same issue at the end of last year closing out games and forcing them out of finals contention. Scott just needs to be mindful. 

2. The tag game is necessary on occasion


You didn’t need to be a genius or study Collingwood matches much to identify Nick Daicos as a serious threat and a dominant player. 

The 20-year-old’s stats so far this season are mind-blowing. 35, 32, 33, 38, and 42 disposals in the first five rounds helped average 36 touches per game. 

Brad Scott knew coming in that Daicos would be the focal point of any attack going forward but opted not to elect a designated tagger to breathe down his neck. 

Collingwood’s number 35 is a difficult player to contain and analyse. Some were doubtful of his ability to win the Brownlow at such a young age playing at half-back with limited midfield minutes, but he actually doesn’t have a set position. Wherever the ball is, Daicos roams around and has the fitness and work ethic to meet that ball and be involved in the contest. 

Sure, a tag or a double-team approach frees up opportunities for other Collingwood players as they are capable of with their depth and talent.
No one in the competition has yet to fully embrace this tactic though. In hindsight, if the Bombers did embrace that approach, it would’ve most likely forced the Pies to come up with solutions on the spot. 

That didn’t eventuate, and as a result, Daicos racked up 40 touches and won the Anzac medal for best on ground. 

Going forward, Essendon needs to be wary of these types of players within the opposition and adjust their game plan accordingly. 


3. Phillips is not the answer to exploiting ruck weaknesses

For the past couple of weeks, Craig McRae has faced a ruck crisis involving Darcy Cameron and Mason Cox sidelined for several weeks due to injury.

In the week prior against an undefeated Saints side, they were able to weather the storm and hold out for a narrow six-point victory to hand Ross Lyon his first loss of the season. 

The question was put forward to St Kilda if they could dominate the ruck area and capitalise on the clearances. They failed to answer the call.

Before Tuesday’s meeting, there was more hope for the likes of Sam Draper and Andrew Phillips to take full advantage of this area of frailty for the Pies, pinning their hopes on Billy Frampton.

Newly appointed Essendon coach Brad Scott.

Essendon coach Brad Scott. (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

It was decided that Draper would start up forward, managing to cause early havoc by kicking the first goal and a behind straight after. 


Phillips brings a physical presence to the table, but in hindsight, Scott would likely be rethinking his choice of not starting Draper in the ruck from the opening bounce.

In my view, Phillips doesn’t possess the ruck skills that are required in terms of gaining an advantage in the contest for the players around him, whereas Draper can make things happen whether it be ordinary or extraordinary. 

Those three points outlined are small one-percenters, but games are ultimately won and lost made up of small margins. 

If you were to ask any Essendon supporter to put pen to paper on a 4-2 start before the season commenced, I think the majority would’ve happily signed. 

Tuesday was a heartbreaking loss and there are areas to improve and adapt. However, that shouldn’t detract from any of the brilliant work that Brad Scott has implemented thus far.

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