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COMMENT: Shiel arrival means Dons must deliver

Dylan is a Don: the best of Shiel GWS midfielder Dylan Shiel joins Essendon

DYLAN Shiel's arrival at Essendon brings with it increased expectations for the Bombers, but here is the reality: the time is now for them to strike.

List boss Adrian Dodoro said as much on Wednesday night after landing the Greater Western Sydney star at the expense of two first-round picks (albeit getting a future second-rounder back his way).

It means the club won't have selected in the opening round of the draft for three years between 2017-19. However, the Bombers believe their group is good enough to challenge with the best, and Shiel's acquisition will only strengthen that confidence.

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The club took an unforeseen backward step in 2018, despite recruiting Jake Stringer, Devon Smith and Adam Saad in last year's NAB AFL Trade Period. All were successes – Smith won the best and fairest, Saad came fourth and Stringer led the goalkicking.

But none of those players addressed their need for midfield size and strength. Shiel will.

He's a centre clearance specialist, who can muscle opponents, stand up under fierce tackling pressure and provide genuine speed and line-breaking run. His presence will help fellow midfield jet Zach Merrett, who struggled with close attention throughout last season, plus younger midfield types Darcy Parish and Andrew McGrath.

Those four, joined by captain Dyson Heppell, best and fairest Smith, consistent performer David Zaharakis and the much-improved Kyle Langford, make for a much healthier midfield mix for the Bombers.

Essendon hasn't won a final since 2004 (the longest drought of any club), and has had four horror elimination final losses in between. They aimed to win multiple finals in 2018 – an expectation the club was open about in the pre-season but gradually backed away from after its 2-6 start to the year – but finished in 10th place.

However, the second half of the season – when they won 10 of their last 14 games, including wins over West Coast, Geelong, Sydney and Greater Western Sydney – highlighted their ability.

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Aaron Francis looks set to take on Brendon Goddard's sweeping role across half-back, Marty Gleeson will return from injury that ruined his 2018, and they will be hoping for full years from key pair Orazio Fantasia and Joe Daniher. 

Essendon's core is young, but the need to push for a premiership next season centres on its key defenders. Michael Hurley will turn 29 next year, while Cale Hooker will start the season as a 30-year-old.

If Essendon is to taste success, it will need its pair of All Australian defenders to be playing impenetrable footy in the back half – Hooker as the interceptor and Hurley as the lockdown.

 

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John Worsfold, who is contracted until 2020, will enter next season as one of the most under-pressure coaches, not for what Essendon hasn't achieved in his three years at the club, but because of the talent at his disposal now. 

The list management team has delivered him four key players for his side over the past two trade periods without losing any of its own.

He, too, has made his own signing for his coaching panel, with former Adelaide defender Ben Rutten crossing from Richmond's coaching staff to Tullamarine.

Expect Rutten to be involved in building a better team defence for the Bombers, which has been a weakness for the club but a strength at Punt Road.

Landing Shiel was a coup for Essendon, and highlighted its ability to attract talent. It was one of the brightest moments for the club this decade. The contracted star midfielder chose them over rivals (some offering more money) because he saw Essendon as his best fit. It's time for Essendon to live up to its end of the deal.

The views in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of the AFL or its clubs