A QUESTION might have popped into the minds of both John Worsfold and Ben Rutten on Friday night.
'Mind if we have one of them?'
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The depth of talent within Greater Western Sydney's midfield group is scary. Contested beasts, outside runners, clearance machines. The Giants have them all. And all of them were key in the AFL's newest expansion side compiling a dream run to last year's maiden Grand Final appearance.
While they weren't at their stellar best in a narrow four-point victory over the Bombers at Metricon Stadium, they did enough. Particularly when it counted, as the Giants clawed their way back from 29 points down to secure a dramatic comeback win.
Essendon's search for big-bodied midfield support has been well documented. Former No.1 NAB AFL Draft pick Andrew McGrath has made the permanent move to an inside midfield role this season and is enjoying a career-best year, while Dylan Shiel has found his feet in his second campaign in Bombers colours.
Zach Merrett, who won a game-high 33 disposals in Friday night's defeat, is already a dual best and fairest winner and has the quality to lead just about any onball division in the competition.
But one more blue-chip midfield option to support those aforementioned names, along with promising two-game ruckman Sam Draper, must be the priority as Essendon prepares for its future under Rutten's reign.
Those A-graders are what Greater Western Sydney has in droves. Star captain Stephen Coniglio (26 disposals, one goal) inspired the second-half comeback, reigning best and fairest winner Tim Taranto (32 disposals, four clearances) provided the industry all night, while Lachie Whitfield (26 disposals, seven score involvements) was the star dust to sprinkle on the outside.
Jacob Hopper (23 disposals, 10 contested possessions) and Josh Kelly (21 disposals, four tackles) were also among the most prolific players on the ground, as the Giants finished the match with five of the game's top seven ball winners.
"Our midfield … I thought they dug in. Taranto, Kelly, Hopper, Coniglio, just to name a few, they really dug in about 10 minutes into that third quarter and they helped us get over the line," Giants coach Leon Cameron said after the match.
As if the riches of Greater Western Sydney's midfield talent weren't already itching away at Worsfold and Rutten, Cameron's line of "just to name a few" might have ensured it was well and truly stamped at the forefront of their thinking.
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The Giants bat so deep through the midfield, they were allowed to experiment with returning former co-captain Callan Ward off half-back in his first appearance in almost a month due to a knee injury.
Dual first-round draft selections Tom Green (pick No.10 in the 2019 NAB AFL Draft) and Jackson Hately (pick No.14 in 2018) couldn't even crack the side, as fellow first-rounders Jye Caldwell (pick No.11 in 2018) and Xavier O'Halloran (pick No.22 in 2018) were given midfield minutes sparingly as they continued their development.
Essendon, meanwhile, watched as Jacob Townsend came from the field early in the match bleeding from the nose and mouth following an unfortunate collision with veteran defender Heath Shaw. He failed to finish the game due to concussion.
"I don't think (it was a cheekbone injury), it was just concussion," Worsfold said afterwards.
Townsend, a premiership player with Richmond, had been recruited to provide a big-bodied buffer in Essendon's midfield. The only reason he has lined up forward this season has been due to an injury list that includes potential goalkickers like Joe Daniher, Orazio Fantasia, Jake Stringer, Jayden Laverde, Cale Hooker and Harrison Jones.
In Townsend's absence, Kyle Langford was then forced from a blossoming midfield role into a newfound position as the side's main marking target in attack on Friday night. He finished the match with two goals, but would have preferred more onball time.
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Darcy Parish, a natural midfielder who the club has appeared reluctant to push into the centre this season, continued to float forward at Metricon Stadium, while David Zaharakis is into the twilight stages of his career.
"(The Giants) are a very good team. They had their patch when they started to get on top and challenge us. Over the course of the full game, we couldn't maintain that pressure on them on the scoreboard," Worsfold said.
So, what helps bridge that gap for Essendon? What helps the club take the next step and break that elusive 16-year drought without a finals victory? A blue-chip midfielder will help. Links to Port Adelaide's Ollie Wines and Adelaide's Brad Crouch are bound to continue gathering momentum as the year wears on.
Maybe, though, the answer could lie at Greater Western Sydney.
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Caldwell, a tough and explosive clearance machine, Hately, a 190cm ball-winner with strong leadership traits, and O'Halloran, a strong-bodied and athletic onballer who made his AFL debut on Friday night, were all first-round draft picks for the Giants back in 2018. They're also all uncontracted beyond this year.
Remember that question that might be playing on the minds of Worsfold and Rutten? Well, it might be asked again come this year's Telstra AFL Trade Period.
'Mind if we have one of them?'