Ben Hobbs, Nic Martin and Archie Perkins celebrate Essendon's win over Carlton in round 13, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

THAT Brad Scott was able to take an extended break over the Essendon's Christmas holidays told a few things about the club's progress under his watch.

Scott handed over the reins to Daniel Giansiracusa for the first two weeks of January's pre-season block, aware not only of the experienced assistant's capacity to manage the load in his own quest to be a senior coach (he will steer the Bombers in Friday's match simulation against St Kilda) but also of the benefits of a different voice after what had been a non-stop 14 months since Scott was appointed Essendon's new coach in September, 2022.

"As I said to the players, they're very quickly going to get sick of the sound of my voice so a two-week reprieve is probably good for them as well," Scott told

But it also showed that after a first season that started well but faded badly, 11 players leaving the club, four recruits joining via trade or free agency and a whole suite of off-field appointments in place, that Scott was more comfortable with where things sat ahead of his second season.

So what should the expectations be on Essendon in 2024?  

"Continued improvement, both on an individual level but also as a team," Scott said. "Most clubs going into 2024 can expect their best to be pretty good. That's certainly the way I look at it. I can make a case for every team when they have their best personnel available that they'll be a handful. The challenge for us is that when we don't have a full list available, or we're a bit off our best, it can't be big gaps between our very best and worst footy."



ESSENDON won eight of its first 13 games under Scott last season before key injuries to Jordan Ridley, Jake Stringer and Sam Draper cut at the Bombers' depth and they finished the season with limp defeats to Greater Western Sydney (126 points) and Collingwood (70 points) to miss the finals.

They are games that Scott and the Bombers have reflected upon plenty over summer as they came up against the premiers and preliminary finalists. "That told a story as to the gap," he said.

It also made clear the Bombers needed more balance to their group, so attacking the off-season was crucial. North Melbourne free agent Ben McKay chose Essendon over Hawthorn and his Roos teammate Todd Goldstein also had interest from Collingwood before reuniting with Scott. Xavier Duursma was in contract at Port Adelaide and Jade Gresham met with Richmond before picking the Bombers.

Scott has concentrated on getting them up to speed with how he wants the Bombers to play.

"A big focus, with some additional recruits coming in, has been the synergy with our group. I'm always very conscious when you bring in four or five players, including our draftees who have the capability of being selected in our best side, that that's a big turnover in terms of new players into your team with a different system," he said.

"In the case of experienced recruits you're trying to probably undo some things that have been habitual in a different system and relearn. That takes time so we've really worked harder on our synergy which has meant a lot of full ground drills, trying to connect our defence with our midfield and forward half."

Scott acknowledged his previous time at North Melbourne as a factor in getting McKay across the line to fill an important role for the Bombers, but said it wasn't that alone. McKay had a knee issue that he carried at the end of North's season that saw him on modified duties until Christmas but is bound for a round one start for his new club.

"One of the biggest sells to someone like Ben McKay in the prime of his career is that we have a program and a coaching structure we believe can make him the best player he can possibly be. Ben's going to play his prime years with us so with that he's got to be sold on the fact that at least we're capable of some team success," Scott said. "We hoped we could present a compelling case which obviously he bought into."

Duursma will add more running capacity, Gresham is now the only small forward on Essendon's list to kick more than 30 goals in a season and Goldstein will be ready to play in round one if Draper isn't ready after his groin surgery. Scott will also toy with playing two ruckmen, like he did last year with Draper and the now retired Andrew Phillips.

Scott is excited about Nate Caddy's development as a young key forward from last year's draft and sees him as a "big moments" player already, with the relative health of Essendon's list over summer giving the coach plenty of options to roll through 18 vs. 18 match simulations.

Nate Caddy and Brad Scott chat during Essendon training on January 22, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

But he doesn't feel that one heavy recruiting spree has finished off where he wants the list to land, knowing it will still enter this season as one of the youngest in the competition. More additions will be targeted this year.

"If you're not planning that now you're behind," he said. "We think we've got some capability on our list that can really progress in terms of elevating their game. But we're also aware that we need some more top-end capability – whether that be at the pointy end of the draft or through free agent and trade acquisitions."


A GROUP of 15 players went to Arizona for an off-season training stint at the end of last season and noticed the difference upon return.

Scott has driven a culture of player ownership but with a balance, recognising it is his and his coaching team's role to arm the squad with the information and program it needs.

"Players ultimately have to buy in, but coaches and the head coach in particularly have a huge responsibility to not just throw it over to the players and say 'Over to you guys, go and get it done'," he said.

"We've got to set the framework, got to set the program and ultimately the most important part of my job is to hold the players accountable to the standards and expectations that we set."

Brad Scott is seen during Essendon's team photo day on February 13, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

The work-in-progress aspect of Essendon under Scott has continued with football department moves and additions, including David Rath joining the club. The former Hawthorn, St Kilda and AFL strategist, who has also spent time with the Wallabies, has given Scott "more rigour" to the analytical side of the department, while also working with many Bombers before and after sessions to finetune their kicking techniques.

"He gives me someone in particular to be able to talk to about the nuance of our game and innovation," Scott said.

"Way back when I met him in the early 2000s, he was a biomechanist at the Australian Institute of Sport with a special interest in the mechanics and improving kicking technique.

"We do a lot of training and we drill a lot of things technically and tactically, but I really felt we needed some more expertise in the kicking mechanics so he drives our kicking program. The players have noticed a significant improvement in their execution and that's a big part, not only goalkicking but field kicking as well."


AT A training session over summer, Goldstein jokingly asked if they were playing in a finals series that week given the large number of supporters watching on at the club's Tullamarine headquarters.

It is a fanbase hungry for success as Essendon enters its 20th season since its last finals win in 2004. Scott doesn't feel the weight of that having been appointed only at the end of 2022, but is readying his team for the higher level required in finals.

Todd Goldstein in action during Essendon's training session at the NEC Hangar on January 22, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

"We're well aware of the history. You'd be crazy to stick your head in the sand and pretend it's not there. One of the things I love about being involved at Essendon is just the massive support and passion of the footy club but with that comes a fair amount of expectation as well, which we absolutely want to embrace," he said.

"I think our supporters should have reason to be optimistic about the future. But as professional athletes and coaches, as boring as it sounds, we focus on continual improvement day by day.

"You can be prepared for the hype. You can be prepared for when the competition narrows from 18 teams to eight and the pressure that comes with that. You can hope you'll be OK or you can be prepared for it, and we're working really hard mentally and physically to be prepared for that if we earn the right to qualify."

Long-term injuries to Kaine Baldwin (foot) and Jaiden Hunter (knee) have been disappointments for Essendon over the pre-season, but otherwise it is a list in good health and shape, giving Scott options across the ground.

McKay will join forces with Ridley in defence, with Zach Reid pushing to also earn a spot there. Nic Martin has trained up as an attacking half-back to provide more versatility and be the Bombers' set-up star. In the forward line, Peter Wright and Kyle Langford will partner again but with Stringer fit and Caddy and Harry Jones also pushing to be selected.  

Ben McKay poses for a photo during Essendon's official team photo day on February 13, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

Duursma and second-year midfielder Elijah Tsatas have trained on the wings, while Sam Durham, Archie Perkins, Ben Hobbs and Jye Caldwell are all jostling for midfield time as they grow into their respectively young careers.

"It's a good thing we have good depth through there. But we've really pushed those individuals to elevate their game to the next level so it's really healthy competition. But we need a couple of them to jump up and really stamp their authority on the team and by extension the competition," he said.


Draper's recovery from his groin injury
"He keeps surprising us. If you'd asked me pre-Christmas [if he'd play round one] I would have said no, just based on the program we had built for him. But with every session, he not only ticks the box in terms of his progression but he's ahead of where we thought he'd be. That being said, we learned our lesson last year. He started to get sore, he kept playing, and in perfect hindsight we would have pulled him back earlier. My clear direction to our high performance and medical team is that we want him robust enough to get through a whole season at his best, not just manage him through a season. Whether it's round one, I wouldn't put it past him the way he's going, but I can't guarantee it either."

Reid's progress
"It's a credit to 'Reidy'. He's worked extremely hard. We're excited but we're not lumping him with the expectation of holding up our last line of defence. He'll certainly get opportunity. He's in good physical and mental shape, but he's played eight games in four years so we've got to temper our excitement."

Leadership group growth
"We've definitely expanded our leadership capability. We're extremely happy with Zach's development as a standalone captain. Andy McGrath is just a pro in every respect and together they form a very, very good combination. What probably doesn't get seen from the outside is the depth of leadership. We've had a lot of guys really grow and develop in that space… whether that be Darcy Parish, Kyle Langford, Peter Wright, Mason Redman. There's a long list there that this time last year, I wasn't sure whether we had or not."