Essendon FC- Mid Year Report Card

Good evening,

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Here is my assessment of the Bombers season as we sit here at the mid-season break.

Game Style

Positives
It would not be possible to watch the Bombers, or to listen to the comments of the coaching staff in general, and James Hird in particular, without getting a dose of 'we want the boys to play the style of football that we want'. As an observer, it seems pretty clear that from a structure and discipline point of view, there has been huge steps forward in the way we play. Call it what you like, defenders pushing up, rolling off, spread, protecting space, coverage and / or switch, we are much more accountable structurally. It doesn't seem to come easy or naturally to the guys as yet as there is much pointing and hand waving at almost every stoppage to ensure that everyone is in the right place at all times. I have enjoyed watching it as you can feel and see and be part of what the guys are trying to do, rather than live and die by the scoreboard. Being part of the process if you like.

Negatives
As great as our defence and mid-field processes have been, the forward line is a disaster from an efficiency point of view. The ball goes in, and the ball comes out. I am not a fan of the new wave 'shared goals, multiple options, no focal point' style. If John Coleman played now, he would be a high half forward forward and rotate regularly off the ground. The club needs to commit to a player (or two) to isolate / hit up and then allow the rest to separate / make space and be available as alternates. It the ball is turned over, everyone needs to put forward pressure on to keep the ball in.

Players

Barometers / Bellweathers
Thought I would introduce this category. In my opinion, Essendon has two players that dictate our fortunes and whose performances are lead-indicators as to whether we play well or not.

Courtenay Dempsey - This guy is absolutely key to our structure and our fast break from defence. He has come back superbly from his knee reco a couple of years ago and is just getting better and better with his defensive skills, intercept work and rebound run.
Alwyn Davey - Pretty simply put, when Alwyn plays well and kicks goals, we win, when he plays badly and is subbed off, we lose. A broad generalisation, but usually true. To be clear, this is not a criticism of Alwyn Davey. When we are moving the ball quickly forward (in our 'delightfully' unstructured manner), we have big forwards who usually contest aggressively and bring the ball to ground with the attendant benefits for a small forward like Alwyn. When the ball comes in slowly, or worse still when the ball is kicked in long on top of Alwyn's head, against the better teams, it is not going to work out well.

Positives
Jobe Watson - Having another wonderful season, albeit with a slight drop off over the last couple of weeks. His leadership on and off field during the ASADA investigation has been outstanding and should be considered and valued over and above any possessions he gets per game.
Courtenay Dempsey - See above. One of our absolute keys.
Jake Carlisle - Jake hasn't necessarily come from nowhere but he has gone from an emerging player to an All Australian candidate in six months. His size, ability to read the play, sure hands, foot skills and willingness to learn are just some of his attributes.
Michael Hibberd - Also in All Australian form, Michael is reaping the rewards of a fine pre-season and a positive attitude. He also shows great judgment on when to mark and when to punch / defend. His left foot from half back is lethal.
Mark Baguley - After a few games in 2012, I was surprised when Mark was selected early in 2013. Boy, has he stepped up. Can cover his man, play hard, tight and provide backup and coverage while his team mates run off and make the play. Very solid and dependable.
Brendon Goddard - Arriving as the first 'big fish' of the initial Free Agency period and in the aftermath of the supplements scandal, Brendon Goddard has stood up to the pressure superbly, Not always dominant, but ever threatening, he has been creative and consistent while always drawing quality opposition.
Dustin Fletcher - It hasn't been his best year due to missing a couple of games through injury, but the value of Dustin's experience and talent can't be overstated in support of our emerging defenders. And he is an absolute crowd favourite. Go Fletch!

Honorable Mentions
Dyson Heppell, David Zaharakis, David Myers, Heath Hocking, Paddy Ryder and Stewart Crameri have all had good years to date IMO.

Negatives
Tom Bellchambers - A victim of 'team balance' and the emergence of Joe Daniher. Tom looked fitter than ever at the start of the season, played well for a half a dozen games, had a couple of quiet ones and now finds himself in the 'magoos'.
Leroy Jetta - Leroy has been unable to cement a place this year, simply by not showing that he is able to contribute any more than the other small forwards in Alwyn Davey, Jackson Merrett and the emerging Will Hams. Nick Kommer has somewhat stolen Leroy's spot also with a spirited physical and defensive display whilst still hitting the scoreboard.

New Boys
Nick Kommer - Having an excellent debut season. Nick has a strong body, is committed and is able to find space in close and plays with passion and energy.
Jackson Merrett - In the 80s, he may have been called 'a will of the wisp'. Fast with silky skills, Jackson is establishing a role in the team. He gives and receives in equal measure up forward making him a valued team player.
Joe Daniher - Two games into his senior career, the hype seems well justified. At 201 cm, he can run, jump, mark and provide leadership and voice on-field. Seriously, Joe could be ANYTHING! Sorry, the lid is off…
Will Hams - Again, has played just a couple of games but has given plenty in terms of effort and seems to have the coaching team's support as an emerging mid-fielder. One to watch.

Other

You can't analyse Essendon's season without referring to the ongoing ASADA / Supplements inquiry.

Of course I have no information that is not in the public domain, so my comments are purely common sense with a touch of emotion. Most sports fans prefer a level playing field and to maintain the integrity of the game and as such, my team should not be taking an unfair advantage. So I am happy to step back from the investigation, let it run it's course and let the cards fall where they may. If we are guilty of illicit substances, the club and the players must cop the penalty. I would of course feel very sorry for the players who were only following orders, in the spirit of 'team'. Should this 'worst case scenario' occur, team management, medical and coaching staff must also be held accountable and pay the price. If that takes some 'uncomfortable' scalps then that is the price of integrity.

If however there is no case to answer, I would expect all facets of the club to be strengthened by this personally harrowing and professionally challenging period.

Summary

A better than expected first half. I have enjoyed the ride so far and rate our performance 8/10, marked down from a '9' due to our bad loss to Brisbane.

Nine wins, with highlights being the win over Fremantle in Perth, the Anzac Day win over Collingwood, and the 'Dreamtime' win over Richmond, offset by an 'honourable' loss to Geelong, a bit of a hammering by the Swans in dodgy conditions on their home patch and a disappointing loss to the middle of the table Brisbane Lions.

Our team is playing a disciplined brand of football, is relatively injury-free and can look positively forward to a decent second half of the year. My pre-season prediction of 8th now seems a wee bit pessimistic. Top four might be a stretch, so a September slot of 5th to 8th being most likely.

Go Bombers!

Bye for now, BomberBoy