IF YOU feel like you've read this one before, it's because you probably have. 

But we'll ask the question again: why doesn't Essendon play Darcy Parish as a midfielder?

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Parish, now into his fifth season at AFL level after being the fifth pick at the 2015 NAB AFL Draft, was ready to blossom into a full-time ball-winner at the end of last year.

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In his last 13 completed games (he was concussed in one game) of the 2019 season, Parish averaged 23 disposals and also booted goals in seven of those appearances.

After dividing his time between the centre square and the forward line, Parish looked set to deliver on what he does best: hunt the ball, win it at stoppages and get things going Essendon's way from the midfield.

But it hasn't been the case in the Bombers' first three games of this year.

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Parish has attended a total of only eight centre bounces this season, which currently ranks seventh of the club's midfielders.

Last season, the 22-year-old attended 135 centre bounces at an average of 6.4 a game. He's been in the engine room less in 2020, and Essendon has also chosen to rotate less players through there.

Perhaps the most confusing part of the Parish perplexment is that with captain Dyson Heppell injured and going out of the side, the midfield time for Parish actually went down last week against Carlton.

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In the Bombers' previous game against Sydney, it was Parish who landed the killer blow in a dominant last term.

Moved to the midfield for the final quarter, Parish had 13 disposals, two clearances, four inside-50s and kicked the match-winning goal from the boundary line to sink the Swans.

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But then in the loss to Carlton, Parish didn't attend one centre bounce. Coach John Worsfold reasoned that it was because Kyle Langford, in his role running with Blues star Patrick Cripps, had taken on more midfield time.

 

"Overall Kyle did a really good job matching up on Cripps, but obviously that means if [Andrew] McGrath, [Dylan] Shiel and [Zach] Merrett are still spending a fair bit of time in the midfield then someone else spends less time in there. It's always a balancing act," Worsfold said this week.

"Darcy's in that phase of his career where we're seeing glimpses of what he can do, but he's competing with some pretty good guys who are playing roles for us at the moment.

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"But I'm really keen to see him continue to blossom as a player who can impact the game whether he's just on ball or around the footy as a forward who's coming up playing pretty high, or as a forward impacting with speed and clean ball-handling and getting shots at goal."

Essendon is set to blood former Kangaroos midfielder Mitch Hibberd this week for his Bombers debut, but with the suspended Merrett joining Heppell on the sidelines this week against Collingwood, a more permanent midfield role for Parish must await.

The numbers say Essendon is better for it. Champion Data figures show that last season they won the centre bounce clearances 53 per cent of the time he was in attendance, giving him the best ratio of the regular Bombers midfielders.

Without Parish, they won just 44 per cent of the centre bounces last season, again ranking him No.1 at the club for the differential.

The most eyebrow-raising part of the Parish plan lies in his game time. He has averaged just 71:45 minutes per game this season, which is the lowest at the club apart from Jayden Laverde, who has played only one game.

He has spent 70 per cent of that game time as a forward, which is up from 54 per cent in 2019.

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Essendon didn't draft Parish for this role. Just days after joining the club, list manager Adrian Dodoro introduced Parish to his teammates and told them the Bombers expect him to be "one of the premier midfielders of the competition".

That's a hard task from the half-forward flank.

Others from Parish's draft class, including Melbourne's Clayton Oliver, Western Bulldog Josh Dunkley and Giant Jacob Hopper, have all benefited from being thrust in the midfield and trusted there.

Parish re-signed with the Bombers last year through to the end of 2021, but that won't stop rivals from coming again this year if he's continued to be played as a small forward.