After a shaky start to its premiership defence, Essendon fought its way back to again be one of the main contenders in the 2023 rebel VFLW season.
BY THE NUMBERS
Position: 3rd (after finals)
W-L-D (%): 9-7-1 (98.3%)
Players used: 49
Played every match: 3 – Grace Dicker, Meghan Ryan and Courtney Ugle
AFLW players used: 19 (71 matches)
Debutants: 17 – Lily Bateman, Melanie Bateman, Tia Davidge, Maddison Ford, Madison Gray, Sarah Grunden, Tayla Hart-Aluni, Zoe Hurrell, Lila Keck, Maddy Pearson, Chloe Prpic, Jayda Richardson, Krystal Russell, Meghan Ryan, Leah Spargo, Reese Sutton and Sophie Ure
Best and Fairest: 1st: Sophie Molan, 2nd: Grace Dicker, 3rd: Bella Clarke, 4th: El Chaston, 5th: Courtney Ugle
Lambert-Pearce Medal votes: El Chaston (8), Amelia Radford (6), Grace Dicker (4), Courtney Ugle (4), Stephanie Wales (4)
Coaches MVP votes: Sophie Molan (27), Amelia Radford (20), Courtney Ugle (20)
VFLW Team of the Year representatives: Sophie Molan
Goalkickers: Mia-Rae Clifford (14), Olivia Manfre (10), Maddie Wilson (6)
(Averages – Minimum 6 matches)
Disposals: Sophie Molan (17.1), El Chaston (15.1), Grace Dicker (13.8)
Kicks: El Chaston (9.8), Sophie Molan (9.3), Bella Clarke (8.9)
Handballs: Sophie Molan (7.9), Grace Dicker (7.5), Reese Sutton (6.6)
Marks: Sophie Molan (2.9), Courtney Ugle (2.8), Zoe Hurrell (2.5)
Tackles: Grace Dicker (11.5), Reese Sutton (7.7), El Chaston (5.7)
Hitouts: Jaimee-Lee Morrow (23.6), Megan Ryan (12.1), Jayda Richardson (0.9)
Clearances: Grace Dicker (3.4), Reese Sutton (3.4), Megan Ryan (3.2)
Inside-50s: El Chaston (3.5), Reese Sutton (3.0), Sophie Molan (2.3)
Rebound-50s: Bella Clarke (3.1), Tamsin Crook (2.4), Courtney Ugle (1.6)
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Sophie Molan produced a breakout season for the Bombers in response to her delisting from Richmond at the start of the year. Having played just five times for Port Melbourne in the past two years, she lined up 14 times for Essendon, winning the club’s best and fairest. She was the Bombers’ leading vote winner in the Coaches MVP award and earned selection in the rebel VFLW Team of the Year. Backing up an undefeated premiership was always going to be hard, especially without their full-strength squad with many progressing to AFLW, but to still reach a preliminary final despite averaging only four listed players per game shows there is plenty of depth at the NEC Hangar.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Scoring was the Bombers’ biggest issue. After losing Rohenna Young medallist Fed Frew and only getting two games from AFLW-promoted Renee Tierney, all the pressure went onto VFLW great Mia-Rae Clifford to lead the way. While she topped the club list with 14 goals, only youngster Olivia Manfre joined her in double figures as Essendon’s attack fell to 10th for potency, ahead of only Southern Saints and Darebin. Selection consistency was also a problem with only the Casey Demons using more players than Essendon’s 49 for the season. The fact Amelia Radford polled the equal second most Coaches MVP votes for the club while playing only four games for the season says consistency of performance was another issue.
The premiership defence started with a major celebration as Mia-Rae Clifford became the first player to reach 100 VFLW games in a thrilling draw with Box Hill Hawks. Two big losses followed to expose how big the challenge was for new coach Travis Cloke, but they quickly worked it out, winning their next five games to get back into contention. They didn’t lose another game by more than 10 points until it all came unstuck in the preliminary final against the eventual premiers. Still a great effort and plenty to look forward to for Bomber fans.