Essendon Bombers: Seen, not just Hird?

21 March 2011

Written by: Ben Waterworth

A QUICK GLANCE AT 2010:

Despite making the finals in 2009, Matthew Knights’ coaching tenure was a troubled one. His attacking philosophy in an ever growing defensive game style era, coupled with a poor repour with players, officials and supporters, culminated in his sacking at the end of 2010 with only seven wins for the season.

While Essendon played some breathtaking footy at different stages and claimed some massive scalps in St Kilda and Hawthorn during the season, its defensive attitude was atrocious. The Bombers had the most goals scored against them out of the whole competition with 358 – 25 more than bottom-placed side West Coast. They had scores of 100 plus kicked against them a staggering 14 times.

Essendon supporters had little to boast about, but they would’ve been encouraged to see youngsters and fringe players given crucial game time. Jake Melksham, Jake Carlisle and Travis Colyer were draftees who all showed promise, whilst maligned players such as Scott Gumbleton, Sam Lonergan and Courtenay Dempsey all stepped up and established themselves as more than just part players.

However it was evident things were not right down at Windy Hill and the appointment of club champion James Hird at the completion of the 2010 season has seen a unified front sweep over the club once again.

KEY PLAYER:

Brent Prismall was a big name recruit from Geelong following knee surgery in 2008. Under Knights, he never looked settled, with the former coach opting for quicker yet more erratic types in the midfield. However, Hird loves the in-and-under type who puts their head over the ball. Prismall is that type of player and he will be of great help to skipper Jobe Watson around the stoppages this season. He may lack speed, but his great footy brain and ability to win the football will go along way to see him cement a regular spot in the midfield for Essendon – not VFL affiliate Bendigo.

THREE MOST IMPORTANT GAMES IN 2011:

Round 1 – v Western Bulldogs, Sunday 27 March at Etihad Stadium

After such a promising pre-season campaign – making the NAB Cup Grand Final and showing some improved signs from last season – the last thing the Essendon faithful want to see is a poor showing against a top four team like the Western Bulldogs. Not suggesting a win is a certainty, but the Bombers need to prove their pre-season form will be carried through to the regular season.

Round 5 – v Collingwood, Monday 25 April at MCG

Essendon was comprehensively smashed by 65 points on Anzac Day in 2010. But this season’s clash will show just how much pride the Bomber’s players have for the jumper, when they play the reigning premiers. This will be the game Essendon shows what it truly stands for.

Round 15 – v Geelong, Saturday 2 July at Etihad Stadium

This will be the grudge match where former Cats coach Mark Thompson takes on the side he nurtured and led to two premierships from his new coaches box. It will be interesting to see how Geelong fans respond to him.

WHAT TO EXPECT IN 2011:

Essendon’s pre-season went better than expected. A NAB Cup grand final berth and some promising form had many of the club’s faithful supporters excited about what might be on offer in 2011.

The Bombers drafted Dyson Heppell with pick eight in the 2010 National Draft and he looks like their most promising first draft pick for some years. He oozing class whenever he gets the footy and from what we saw in the pre-season, he looks like he could play a similar half-back role to what Adelaide’s Andy Otten did in his first year of football.

On top of Heppell, mature aged recruit Michael Hibberd looks a lively type. He won the Fothergill-Round Medal in 2010 as the VFL’s most promising player, the same award Michael Barlow won the year earlier. Fans will also be looking to players such as Melksham, Michael Hurley and Cale Hooker to all take the next step in their respective parts of the ground.

On paper, Essendon has a terrible start to the season, playing Western Bulldogs, Sydney, St Kilda, Carlton and Collingwood in its first five rounds and finishes the season with a bye. One would not expect any great heroics out of the Bombers, but one thing is guaranteed: under Hird, they will be no easy beats.

However a promising pre-season and renewed enthusiasm can only take you so far. Essendon lacks a few top class players and although the likes of Watson, Dustin Fletcher, Mark McVeigh, Brent Stanton and Andrew Welsh will always be difficult to beat, this year will be all about improving and putting structures in place to challenge in the years to come.

LADDER PREDICTION:

7th-11th

Michael Pell is a second year Bachelor of Journalism student at La Trobe University. This is his second piece for upstart.