Essendon hit possibly its lowest point of the 2 and a half year long saga with a loss to St. Kilda. Placed 13th and 14th going into the game and their season on the line, coupled with their respected skippers 200th game, Essendon were expected to come out firing and, if not win, at least make a very solid contest for the saints. 4 quarters and only 8 goals 4 behinds later, St. Kilda ran out 110 point victors. This is the worst loss for some time for Essendon, definitely the worst loss in James Hird’s career as coach.
So what can Essendon do to reverse this situation? Languishing at 14th on the ladder, having lost 5 games straight, Essendon appear to be in great trouble. Essendon CEO took to social media to re-assure the supporters that the club is working hard to get through this form slump.
The term “working hard” was also used by key people involved at the club in the coaches post-match press conference. “When you play as badly as we played, and you didn’t perform, you got to go back to one simple principle and that is hard work. You got to work as hard as you can” Hird told the media congregation when asked how the team could arrest this form slump. Captain Jobe Watson while disappointed in his own game echoed the embattled coach’s sentiments. “Whenever you are in a bad way or have a bad loss or aren’t playing the kind of footy you are expected to or want to, hard work is the only thing you can really do to get out of it” expressed the dejected skipper to the press after the game.
So what is the “hard work”? On top of the obvious, training hard and doing everything needed to be done as a player, Essendon needs to seriously evaluate its list. Despite the draft sanctions handed down as part of the AFL’s sanctions the side isn’t without young talent. Several young players such as Joe Daniher, Zach and Jackson Merrett, Jason Ashby, Shaun Edwards, Kyle Langford, Jayden Laverde, Martin Gleeson and Orazio Fantasia have shown some of the fantastic talent to come through, coupled with the more experienced but still relatively younger crew such as Dyson Heppell have shown there is definitely youth in this side ready to take the baton from the older players.
With Jason Winderlich, Paul Chapman and maybe even Dustin Fletcher undoubtedly considering hanging up the boots, this leaves Essendon less a versatile half forward/back swingman, small forward and one of the greatest full backs the game has ever seen. This alone could open up some potential for the 2016 list planning team who will also have to consider some trades and drafts to complement the list but in particular bolster where it is weak.
For many years Essendon has struggled in the forward department. For some time it looked like Essendon was starting to build a forward line, trailing players who showed glimpses, but never managed to contribute the way the club had hoped. As it stands, Essendon are forced to leave an experienced midfielder such as Jobe Watson or Brendon Goddard and while this can work in the short term, it is not sustainable. Essendon would have to be considering poaching an experienced forward to help guide the structure of and general play inside the arch. This would no doubt have a positive influence on the inexperienced but determined Joe Daniher.
The ruck stocks at Essendon have also been slim of late, compounded by the departure of Patrick Ryder at the end of the 2014 season. While number 1 ruckman Tom Bellchambers has had his injury woes, he has also struggled with form. He was relegated to the VFL side before injuring his foot, sidelining him for a large number of weeks. This has allowed Shaun McKernan, given a second chance after being delisted from Adelaide a chance he has grabbed with both hands. Shaun has played 3 games for Essendon and has earned accolades from the coaches in all 3.
Despite this, no club can rely on a single key ruckman, especially one as inexperienced as Shaun. The club must be sitting with its more experienced ruckmen, ex-GWS Jonathan Giles and Tom Bellchambers to determine its future direction. Recruiting another ruckman, possibly at the expense of a currently listed ruckmen is still a very viable possibility.
While current form suggests otherwise, it is not all doom and gloom for Essendon with several positives to take out. Joe Daniher is a much improved player in the contests, leading and marking areas however still needs to practice his kicking and the afore-mentioned McKernan. The VFL side is also ripe with talent yet untapped such as Jayden Laverde and who isn’t excited about another Long joining the senior side in a couple of years?
Thoughts? Leave them in the comments below.