Heralded as Top Four fancies by the media in the off-season, Bomber fans would have seen 2019 as the year that their 15 year wait for a finals victory would come to an end. Instead, now at 5-6 and two wins behind seventh, it’s been a below average season for the Bombers and their fans.
WHAT HAS GONE RIGHT?
Essendon are still exhilarating when they play their way, as was on full show during their four game stretch against Brisbane, Collingwood, North Melbourne and Melbourne. They even found a way to win ugly too, with the Round Nine victory over Fremantle requiring a completely different approach from John Worsfold’s men.
Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti has been a one man highlight reel in the Bombers wins, his seven goals against Brisbane a particular bright spot. Darcy Parish has been outstanding too, producing elite numbers since being unleashed in the midfield. Dylan Clarke’s second game against the Blues was something else too, with the youngster managing to keep Patrick Cripps to mere mortal numbers to help the Bombers to a much needed victory. They may have unearthed a special one in the 20-year-old from Melbourne Grammar.
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WHAT HAS GONE WRONG?
A lot more than right.
Season was off on wrong foot in first fortnight (Humbled by GWS in a manner which said, “Top 4! Ha, please?” then lost to the Saints insipidly). Three losses with barely a whimper to fancied teams but showed nowhere near their level (GWS, Geelong & Richmond).
Injuries to Fantasia and now Daniher & Stringer has hurt. Tipungwuti appears to get shut out of games easier when Fantasia isn’t there. When he is, they are a formidable small forward duo.
Poor skills & no plan B has hurt the Bombers on a regular basis, with the Saints & Swans games lost due to errors. When Essendon’s running counter attack game is well defended by sides, the Bombers appear uncertain how to go forward. Often, it turns into a stagnant team and once they turn it over, they can’t match the opposition’s countering movement and free players open up for simple set shot finishes.
As a result of the stagnant nature, they often just bomb into the forward line and hope for the best and instead, the worst often eventuates. When the players lower the eyes, and the forward line operates dynamically as it can, the Bombers can be a dangerous side.
From a personnel standpoint, Dylan Shiel has at times disappointed with his ball use. At times has shown exactly why Essendon wanted him but as highlighted by much of the media, he has not backed up his strong ball winning performances with elite usage. Has shown the ball winning skills of the best but has lacked the poise you see from a Pendlebury or Josh Kelly for example
That Aaron Francis is persistently played as a forward has long frustrated this correspondent. Not a knock on him as much as the coach for misuse. Essendon lost an all-Australian backman in Jake Carslisle to St Kilda, because the Bombers persisted with him in the forward line. It will happen again with Francis.
He has shown his capability to be a potential future All Australian defender but is never played in this position. He should be the third tall defender behind Hurley & Hooker (Ambrose would probably be the one to fall out of the side as a result), but is currently set up as the number one or number two forward with Daniher missing. He has shown his potential to be a game changing swingman if the match demanded it but he is not a full time forward. Play him in his true role or he’ll go elsewhere and do so, and become a star. Look at Hooker’s return to form back in his best position.
When Anthony McDonald Tipungwuti shines, the Bombers fire. As clearly highlighted by commentators week in and week out, he is unquestionably the Bombers barometer. He has hit the scoreboard in every win, but has not scored a goal in any loss.
Since finally being put into the midfield, Darcy Parish has churned our career best numbers (2x career high 31 disposal matches vs Richmond & Carlton). Winning Centre clearances has increased to 45% when Parish is present and sits at 30% when not present.
Hawthorn (H), West Coast (A), GWS (H), Sydney (H), North Melbourne (H), Adelaide (A), Gold Coast (A), Port Adelaide (H), Western Bulldogs (H), Fremantle (A), Collingwood (A)
Must win: Hawks, Swans, North, GC, Port, Dogs, Freo.
With Fantasia & Stringer back within the next fortnight and Shiel likely to overcome a knock to be back post bye, the Bombers might be able to get back on track. They will likely need to win eight or nine of the final 12 games if they are to finish in the top half of the ladder. With four interstate matches plus Hawthorn, GWS & Collingwood in Melbourne, they will need to improve on their road history if they are to have any chance of winning their first final in 15 years.
While the Bombers best is still electrifying, that they cannot produce this on a regular basis is why they have been incapable of meeting pre-season expectations. While there still remains time for Essendon to get their season on track, outside the eight at the half way point is nowhere near acceptable for a team that had top four aspirations at the beginning of the season.