2017 – Great Success!

Regardless of what happens this week, 2017 has been a “great success” 

By Rusty

We are building! Both the maturity of our playing group, experience, our style and our results. In order to gain momentum continuity is key and by its very nature it cannot happen overnight. To think the playing group has only been playing together under Woosha for nine to ten months, to find ourselves in and around the top eight mark and to have beaten top four teams this year has been a phenomenal effort. When we consider where we have come from and the unique challenges we have faced, season 2017 could have easily gone either way, and a lot of so called experts had us finishing bottom four easily. Put simply the group has played a mere 22 games of football together…

Yes we have lost games we should have won and I was as gutted as anyone after the Sydney match. However on the whole this particular match was the best I have seen Essendon play interstate in a long time and against the form team of the competition, so it remains a big tick in my book. The way we handled the last few minutes was indicative of a young playing group and I thought we simply ran out of legs against Brisbane… another trait of a young side. Surprised by the young reference? Well It is the mark of a truly intelligent person to be moved by statistics – George Bernard Shaw

Presently Essendon is not an old side or a young side, our list is indeed exactly the same as the average age of the competition at 23 years. Surprised? Keep in mind we currently have Jobe Watson, BJ, James Kelly, Brent Stanton & Heath Hocking all above 30 years of age… or statistically speaking ‘outliers’ which have not always been in the senior side in 2017. A further indication of the ‘outliers’ on the 2017 list is the competition average for the number of games played is 83 vs. the current Essendon average of 78. Fast forward to 2018 we look set to be deemed a young side without effectively starting over again, one which will have benefited from the experience of training and playing with the class of 2017.

The forward line is working exceptionally well with a 56% efficiency rate inside 50 vs the compettion average of 50%, Joe Daniher is the revelation of the season and currently ranked second in the Coleman Medal on 60 goals. Jumping Joey’s development has been wonderful to watch this year and at 23 years of age his best years are well and truly ahead of him. We should all be very excited at the prospect of watching Joey in his prime between 26 – 30 years of age both in our forward 50 and up the ground…. ANZAC Day also proved he can play on the big stage!

I’ve said it before and I will say it again… the draft is not an exact science! Remember taking Scott Gumbleton at pick 2 or Kepler Bradley at pick 6? At no stage should we be rolling over for draft picks, it is not the Essendon way and we have a nucleus of very good draft picks whose best years are ahead of them which our recruitment team can add to with smart selections. Consider the below;

  • Andrew McGrath – number 1 selection of 2016
  • Darcy Parish – number 5 selection of 2015
  • Aaron Francis – number 6 selection of 2015
  • Zach Merret – number 26 selection of 2013
  • Joe Daniher – number 10 selection of 2012, a father son selection who would have gone number 1 in my view
  • James Stewart – number 27 selection of 2012
  • Dyson Heppell – number 8 selection of 2010.

Zach Merret is already a top 10 midfielder in the compettion at the age of 22 and on average is three to four years younger than his peers in the top 10 midfield category. His 79 games to date have oozed class where he has averaged 30.4 disposals at a 70.7% disposal efficiency rate. In Zach we have a future captain of our great Club and a player capable of winning the game’s highest individual honour, the Brownlow Medal.

Our rebound 50s have been entertainment plus in 2017 averaging 41. The ‘slingshots’ benefit the pace of our young mosquito fleet including Raz (22 years of age), Walla (24) & Green (25), I would love to say Trav but who am I kidding. The quick ball movement and taking the game on also aids the tall timber of Stewart, Hooker and Joey who are averaging 13 marks inside 50 compared to the competition average of 12.

Hurls has been outstanding down back this year and should be All Australian, keep in mind he has only just turned 27! Conor McKenna (21) is still learning the game, at times his drive and pace off half back has been a real asset to the team but finding consistency is key. On the whole our defense can hold its own but it does feels like we are probably short a key defender at times allowing the opposition to score against us too easily. We currently average 91 points scored against us which needs to improve to around 80 to be a top 4 side. Addressing the root cause of not winning enough of the ball at both centre clearances and stoppages will go a long way to improving this particular stat.

Where else can we get better? Our now seemingly young list needs a big pre-season in the gym considering we are -3 in clearances, -4 in tackles, -1 in tackles inside 50 & -3 in contested possessions in comparison to the competition average. A third year Parish, Laverde, a second year McGrath, Begley and the continued evolution of Zach Merret and Walla will make a big impact in these areas.

Controlling the tempo of matches needs more focus, most teams would refer to this as their Plan B. Modern day football is either played on your terms or it isn’t, the better teams in the competition wrestle back control of the period when they aren’t playing their football by controlling the tempo and or more specifically the actual football. In the second half of the year we have been much improved in this area – see the St Kilda or North Melbourne games – but need to get better again.

Woosha is the right man for the job, to have a premiership winning coach at the helm during this exciting time at the Club is only going to help us. We shouldn’t for one second underestimate how good you have to be to win a flag travelling from Perth every second week, and taking on the AFL lovechild as well as all their cost of living allowances (commonly known as the bloods culture) on the last day in September.

I admit Woosha is a bit rigid at times but imagine being coached by Ross ‘it’s all about me’ Lyon?! For mine the criticism of being ‘one trick Woosha’ is grossly unfair and our mindset shouldn’t be influenced by ‘the peanut’ Robert Walls baseless articles criticising Woosha for not making enough coaching moves throughout his career at West Coast. This is a coach who regularly maneuvered Chris Judd to full forward & the likes of Daniel Chick, Andrew Embley, Adam Hunter and David Wirrpanda etc around the ground. Before Woosha took the Essendon job ‘the peanut’ wrote he shouldn’t be considered because he won’t deliver fast football flair, yet at our best we are one of the best teams to watch in the competition with exactly that – flair. In summary don’t believe the hype….

We’re building something special and future successes are built around foundation years like 2017. A finals appearance would be massive for the club not only for the experience gained, for the healing process for supporters but most importantly to set a baseline for our current group going forward into 2018 and beyond….

Strap yourself in! Go Bombers!

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