AFL Finals: Essendon team preview

7 September 2011

Written by: Erdem Koc

Home and away review

The Bombers had a terrific start to the 2011 AFL season, with five wins and a draw from their first eight games.

A 30-point loss to arch rivals Collingwood on ANZAC Day in round five was a respectable result, considering the Pies’ standing in the competition. It looked like the Bombers’ hunger was back, coach James Hird had the players performing well and that familiar Essendon swagger had returned.

The Dreamtime at the ‘G loss to the Tigers in round nine brought the Bombers right back down to earth. A mid-season slump followed, with losses to Melbourne, North Melbourne and Fremantle, all of which ended up finishing in the bottom eight. It also didn’t help to have Jobe Watson, Michael Hurley, CourtenayDempsey, Jason Winderlich and Heath Hocking on the sidelines for extended periods.

But the Bombers soon returned to blistering form with a miraculous win over a formidable Geelong team at Etihad Stadium in round 15. From that point on, Essendon managed to brave its way through the remaining rounds, despite having one of the biggest injury lists in the league.

Under a new coach and with a depleted list, finishing in eighth position on the ladder is a huge achievement for the Essendon.

Key finals player

Michael Hurley.

While the obvious choice is Bombers’ skipper Jobe Watson, Hurley’s versatility may very well be the key to a successful finals campaign. Recruited as a back man, Hurley has the potential to win matches with his freakish abilities, whether it be by shutting down an opposition forward or by kicking five goals in a quarter.

In their elimination final against arch rivals Carlton, Hurley may be the man who can get the Bombers over the line. Carlton has a questionable back line, especially with Michael Jamison still recovering from his injury. Also, with key forward Stewart Crameri out, Hurley may have to play up forward for most of the match.

The challenge for Hurley is to stay injury free, he has missed quite a few games with minor niggles, and the Bombers simply cannot win without him on the field.

Why Essendon can win the flag

Essendon will find it tough to win the required four games to steal an AFL premiership, but there is no reason why the team can’t do some significant damage. The Bombers have nothing to lose, nobody expected them to make the finals this year, and quite often the underdog tag can inspire an upset.

If Watson and his men perform to their abilities, who knows what the Bombers can achieve?

Why Essendon can’t win the flag

Winning the premiership from eighth position is virtually impossible. The Bombers will need to defy the odds this week against the Blues to cause an upset. But even if they do achieve this, they’ll have to get past the loser of Collingwood-West Coast the following week.

Injuries will also take their toll. Crameri has been an integral player in the Essendon forward line, and his absence will force the Bombers to change their forward structures . Also,  Tayte Pears and Dustin Fletcher will need to carry the load down back, despite both recently struggling with niggling injuries.

Best Possible Result

A win over the Blues this Sunday. A finals win this early in James Hird’s coaching career would be terrific experience for the new coach and the young playing list.  However, even with a win this Sunday, it’s hard to see the Bombers getting any further than a semi-final clash with the loser of Collingwood-West Coast game.

Essendon will face Carlton this Sunday from 2.40pm at the MCG.

Check out the rest of upstart’s AFL team previews here.

Sam Patrick is a first-year student in the Bachelor of Journalism (Sport) at La Trobe University.  His music and sport blog is called It’s My World, You Can’t Have It . Follow him on Twitter: @slpatrick12