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Season review: Essendon

Essendon 'stuffed it up' What went right and what went wrong for the Bombers in The Wash-Up

In a nutshell

The Bombers started their campaign in awful fashion, dropping to 2-6 after eight rounds and all but kissing goodbye to their finals hopes. After some adjustments in style, Essendon had a strong second half of the season but fell short of making the eight.

What we said in the pre-season 

We questioned whether the Bombers' midfield was big enough in stature at the start of the year, particularly with Zach Merrett, Darcy Parish and Andy McGrath at the shorter end. Kyle Langford came on to help out in that area, but the Bombers did struggle at times without a midfield bull to build around.


Have your say: Give your season verdict on the Bombers using the form at the bottom of this article.


What worked

The trades Essendon went hard at last year's trade period and secured Jake Stringer, Adam Saad and Devon Smith. All three were big ticks in their first season at the club.

Tough love for Aaron Francis The Bombers could've played Francis earlier in the year, but they waited and waited and waited until he was more than ready for the level. His last two games of the season showed why he could be a star of the competition.

Winning interstate A great run on the road helped the Bombers in their late bid for the top eight. They played six games interstate and won five of them, including excellent wins over Greater Western Sydney and West Coast.

What failed

Joe Daniher's body The Bombers put Daniher out to pasture in round eight as he managed his osteitis pubis for the remind of the season while on the sidelines. Daniher was battling the injury since round two then played three games in 11 days in rounds five-to-seven before succumbing to the injury.  

The season itself Essendon cost itself with its confusing, stop-start, indirect game-plan in the first two months of the season. A bold call to change their coaching structure mid-season brought on a shift in style, but it was too late.

Small forwards Last year the Bombers got 90 goals out of Orazio Fantasia, Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti and Josh Green. This season injury halted Fantasia, and somewhat Green, while McDonald-Tipungwuti didn't fire at the same level. The small forward trio produced 54 goals.

Overall rating

C

Essendon made the finals last year, recruited three quality players to go deeper into September, put it on themselves to win at least one final for the first time since 2004 – and didn't even make the top-eight or win more games than last year. To call it anything other than a wasted year would be being very generous. This team should have been in September and it isn't.

The coach

The pressure was on Worsfold early in the year, despite the West Coast premiership coach having re-signed until the end of 2020 with the Bombers. He restored some of the faith after a better, more attacking brand was on display in the second half of the year. But the heat will be on next year if Essendon is not a contender.

John Worsfold will see the pressure on him ramped up next season. Picture: AFL Photos

The leaders 

Dyson Heppell was a pivotal part of Essendon's resurgence in the second half of the season. He averaged 27 disposals a game but stepped up with some sterling efforts, including an excellent 34-disposal showing in the win over North Melbourne in round 15.

MVP

Devon Smith: Came from Greater Western Sydney with some doubts over his fitness and where he might play, but arrived at The Hangar, was named in the Virgin AFL All Australian squad, led the competition for tackles and had a brilliant year.

Surprise packet

Matt Guelfi: Guelfi joined the Bombers at pick No.76 last year, but he exceeded expectations by playing 15 games in his debut season. Is tough, dangerous in attack and makes good decisions.

Get excited

Aaron Francis: The top-10 pick's final couple of games of the season showed why Essendon has invested so much into Francis. He could be their most talented young player and next year, his fourth in the AFL, is a crucial one. He needs to make a spot his.

Disappointment

Martin Gleeson: The club had high hopes for Gleeson this season after a strong end to last year, but the intercepting and crafty half-back injured his foot in the pre-season and missed the whole year.

Best win

Round 9:Essendon 12.12 (84) d. Geelong 7.8 (50), MCG

The Bombers were under pressure to perform in this game and they did. They put on a show in the first half, blitzing the Cats to lead by 44 points at the main break. After that things evened up a little, but the game showed the Bombers' promise.

Best individual performance

Michael Hurley. Round 19 v Sydney

With Essendon's finals hopes still alive, the Bombers had to beat the Swans. And they had to shut down Lance Franklin, who has an incredible record against the Bombers across his career. But Hurley took on 'Buddy' and kept him to seven disposals and two goals. He outpointed him in the air and won key contests. 

Low point

Essendon's season hit a low when it lost to the previously winless Carlton in round eight. It was the Blues' only win for 19 weeks and losing to the wooden-spooners may have cost the Bombers a finals spot given they finished one win outside the eight. 

The big questions

Who takes Brendon Goddard's spot? Aaron Francis seems best placed to take the role, but Marty Gleeson will be back from injury, Jordan Ridley had a taste of things this year and Mason Redman may also push for a place.

How will the forward line work with Joe Daniher back? The Bombers functioned better when Daniher was out this year, with Shaun McKernan a target and Jake Stringer closer to goal. It will be an interesting dynamic if all are available.

What difference will Ben Rutten make in the coaching box? The former Crows backman and important Richmond assistant coach will cross to Essendon for next season and he could be a vital addition in solidifying their team defence.  

Season in a song

Wasted Hours – Arcade Fire

Who's done?

Retirements: -

Delistings: Brendon Goddard, Jackson Merrett

Unsigned free agents: -

How should they approach trade and draft period?

With a midfielder in mind. Dylan Shiel is rightfully a target even though he's contracted for next year, while young midfielder Will Setterfield is a top-10 pick at the Giants who is likely to be at a new home in Victoria next year. Mitch Wallis has also been linked to the Bombers.

Early call for 2019

The Bombers can't just make the finals next year, they have to win at least one. Their 14-year drought without a finals win is the longest in the competition and anything short of breaking that would be a disaster.

Bomber fans: what's your season verdict?

Share your views via the form below and we'll publish the best responses on Thursday, September 13. 

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