What went right?
The Bombers went 10-4 through their last 14 games, and were arguably amongst the league’s form sides. That stretch included four wins over Top 8 sides, where they showed that at full strength they could compete with the best.
They finally found a coherent brand of footy, as the side’s numerous weapons did damage on the outside (particularly speedsters Adam Saad and Conor McKenna). Midfield generals Zach Merrett and Dyson Heppell were immense in what’s an undermanned unit, while the forward line was devastating.
As Jake Stringer gave up on his midfield dream, he returned to his best footy and dominated up front with goalsneak Orazio Fantasia. They were also able to adequately replace Joe Daniher, with Shaun McKernan and Mitch Brown both spending time as a lead forward and kicking goals regularly.
What went wrong?
The club was immediately on the back foot in 2018, as they were 2-6 after 8 rounds, including losses to the Bulldogs and Carlton. Those two games likely were the difference between September footy and an early holiday, as even a late-season surge couldn’t put them in contention.
So what fuelled (or unfuelled?) those early season woes? The most obvious thing was a lack of defensive effort, as the Bombers were amongst the worst defensive sides in the comp. It didn’t help Joe Daniher was playing hurt either.
There was significant talk about the coaching structure too, with accusations that only Senior Coach John Worsfold and Lead Assistant Mark Neeld were able to communicate directly with players. It seemed more than a coincidence that the club’s form turnaround coincided with Neeld’s departure.
Standout Player – Devon Smith
It says a lot about the level of talent hanging out in Sydney’s Western Suburbs that one of their middling players can head to another club and tear up the park like Smith did this year. Smith was the perfect acquisition for the Bombers, with his relentless pressure (he led the competition for tackling with 186) bringing a new dimension to the side.
Playing through midfield and half-forward, Smith hit career-highs for average disposals, contested possessions, tackles, and clearances as he was clearly the Bombers best player in 2018.
West Coast by 28 points (Rd 14)
Only three sides beat West Coast at Optus Stadium this year, with the Bombers’ Round 14 victory the most dominant. A 50-1 scoreline midway through the second quarter showed the gulf in intensity, as the Bombers caught the Eagles flat-footed and ran them off the park. Smith and Stringer both kicked three goals, while Zach Merrett had 30 touches.
Improvements for 2019
The Bombers will again be proactive in the trade period, with the club looking to bolster their midfield. Dylan Shiel and Mitch Wallis are names that have been floated (though there are questions over how gettable those players are), as the side looks to add some class in the middle of the park.
As one of the side’s best, Joe Daniher’s return will be a huge upgrade, even accounting for how well his replacements played. Aaron Francis was huge in the final five games of the year when he came into the side, and will minimise the loss of Brendan Goddard.
Bombers fans will look at 2018 and see it as a wasted year – a successful bounce-back year in 2017 and unusually busy off-season brought renewed hope that the club might return to its status as a powerhouse club and win their first final since 2004.
None of that happening means that this season is ultimately a failure. Yes, they’ve found an identity, and that will carry them into next year when they’ll likely improve. But their form proved that they should have been fighting for bigger prizes this year.
Want more on the Bombers? Read: Essendon 2018 – A Season Lost, A New Hope Gained. Want to have your say? Let us know your thoughts in the poll and comments below or join the conversation on Facebook or Twitter.