Essendon Bombers: the young consolidators

15 March 2010

Written by: Matt de Neef

Essendon are always a fascinating team to watch. Their blistering pace mixed with controlled aggression makes them one of the most flamboyant teams in the competition.

The Bombers share the record for the most premierships with arch-rival Carlton, their most recent flag being in 2000. In that year Essendon was close to unstoppable, losing only one game for the entire season on their way to a 16th premiership. Their team ticked all the boxes and covered every position with ease.

Now, with a comparatively younger team, they are aiming to replicate that dominance. And, with a relatively new coach in Matthew Knights, the Bombers will scare many teams in 2010.

2009 review: Let’s be honest here, if it wasn’t for a disappointing Hawthorn side, Essendon probably wouldn’t have made the finals last year. At the end of the home-and-away season, the Bombers had done enough to edge out the Hawks and scrape into the top eight. Remarkably, their ten wins for the year was enough to assure them of their first finals appearance since 2004.

But full credit must go to them for making the most of their opportunities. The most impressive thing about the young Bombers side last season was their performance on the big stage. They were one of only three teams to defeat St. Kilda last year, winning by two points in round 21. But it was their gutsy come-from-behind ANZAC Day victory over Collingwood that was truly memorable.

It was during the ANZAC Day clash that the highly touted Paddy Ryder arrived as an AFL player. After first-choice ruckman David Hille went down with a ruptured ACL in the first minute of the game, Ryder was thrown into the deep end. Coach Matthew Knights instructed him to play as full-time ruckman for the rest of the game and Ryder delivered collecting 16 possessions, 27 hit-outs, one goal and an astonishing 13 tackles. He was awarded the ANZAC Medal for best player on the ground and continued his outstanding form for the remainder of the season.

Another player who took big steps in 2009 was Jobe Watson. As the son of former Essendon champion Tim Watson, the 25-year old has always been under enormous pressure to live up to his father’s legacy. With seemingly every media commentator on his back, Watson had a breakout year, averaging 25 disposals per game and he was duly rewarded with his first best and fairest.

Essendon’s season was cut short by Adelaide in the first week of the finals. Fielding close to a second-rate team, the Bombers were thumped by a determined Crows outfit to the tune of 96 points. While it was disappointing to end the season in such circumstances, Bombers fans would’ve been thrilled with their team’s output for the year and can look forward to bigger and better things.

Player to watch in 2010: It has been a tough ride for Brent Prismall during his five-year AFL career. He was recruited by Geelong in the 2004 draft and struggled to cement a spot in such a star-studded team. During 2008, he began to perform consistently at the top level and impressed the Cats’ coaching staff. Prismall was rewarded with a spot in the team against St. Kilda in the first qualifying final. However, his ambition to be a premiership player with Geelong was tragically cut short when he ruptured his ACL during the first quarter, ending his season.

Essendon picked up the 23-year old in the 2009 pre-season and they would’ve been thrilled with his progress last year. He averaged 23 possessions a game and, despite a long recovery from his serious knee injury, managed to play 13 games for the year – the most senior AFL games he’s ever played in a season.

So why watch Prismall? He is a ball magnet. At the end of a game, expect Prismall’s name to be near the top in terms of possession winners. His efficiency by foot and hand makes him one of the most reliable players in the team as well. For any AFL Dreamteam or SuperCoach fans out there, I’d strongly recommend this guy in your midfield as a bit of a smoky.

The Bombers are gradually developing a top class midfield and Prismall is the key to its success. If he can relieve the tags being put on Watson by the opposition and find the ball himself, Essendon are bound to succeed. 

Prismall has had his first full pre-season for quite some time and the word coming out of Essendon is that he has been tearing up the training track. Going by that information and the potential he already has, it wouldn’t surprise me if he is recognised as one of the most improved players in the competition by season’s end.

What to expect in 2010: Consolidation. Essendon fans will probably expect a better result than last year, but they are still young and probably aren’t ready to take that next step up just yet.

The departure of club champions Matthew Lloyd and Scott Lucas will leave massive holes in the Bombers’ forward line but they have the talent to fill them. Scott Gumbleton and Jay Neagle were both highly rated juniors and came to Essendon under great expectation. Unfortunately for Essendon fans, the two of them have failed to make an impact at senior AFL level yet due either to injury or inconsistent form. It is a massive year for both of them and they will be under enormous pressure. If they are able to cement a spot in the senior side and become potent key forwards, the Bombers’ forward line will be a force to be reckoned with.

Even though they were humiliated with a second-rate side in their final game last year, playing in a finals series will only benefit the baby Bombers. This year they will have a full-strength squad to choose from in round one and can therefore take on the competition with their best cavalry.

The Bombers should make the finals again and this time will earn their place. However, we do have to remember that this is just the start of a long campaign towards premiership success.

Don’t expect them to improve on their result from last year and just making the finals can be considered a success. Anything better is a bonus.  

Final ladder position: 8th

Ben Waterworth is in his second year of a Bachelor of Journalism. The previous instalment in Ben’s look at the 2010 AFL season was a piece about the Collingwood Magpies. You can read more of his work at A short sport thought.