Essendon Bombers 2020 season preview.
Essendon Bombers 2020 season preview.

Will tumultuous off-season break Bombers?

To call Essendon's summer eventful would be an understatement of the highest order.

Joe Daniher wanted out during out during trade week, but couldn't get out.

Speculation raged about Orazio Fantasia's future and the club announced a coaching succession plan, with Ben Rutten to take over from John Worsfold in 2021.

Fifteen players had surgery, including captain Dyson Heppell and first choice ruckman Tom Bellchambers who had knee surgery last month.

Daniher, who played four games last year, was ruled out until mid-season this year because of ongoing groin problems.

Irishman Conor McKenna flew home a month out from Round 1 because he was homesick, but has since returned..

And last year's best-and-fairest winner Zach Merrett was dumped from the leadership group.

You could even call it a tumultuous time.

But don't think it has affected internal expectations for 2020.

The Bombers have been buoyed by the return of a fully fit Devon Smith, and expect even greater output from Dylan Shiel in his second season.

"That's just life at a footy club, especially a big club," Bombers football manager Dan Richardson said of the turbulent period since Essendon's elimination final exit last season.

 

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Essendon captain Dyson Heppell was one of 15 players who required surgery during the off-season. Picture: Getty Images
Essendon captain Dyson Heppell was one of 15 players who required surgery during the off-season. Picture: Getty Images

 

 

"Things will always bob up to challenge you and it's how you deal with those challenges and keep working through them that determine how good a club and how good a team you are.

"Obviously each of those issues is discussed, but you don't lose sight of the bigger picture and you can't lose sight of the work and preparation you need to put in.

"Despite some of those things being well documented we think there is a good group of players, particularly a young group of players who have had strong pre-seasons, and we are confident we are well placed going in to the start of the year."

The year will almost certainly start without captain Heppell, who went under the knife in the off-season to repair a foot issue that plagued him last year.

Having a captain watch most of the pre-season, joined at various times by 14 of his teammates, doesn't sound like the ideal preparation.

But Richardson said perception did not always match reality.

"In an ideal world we wouldn't have quite that many, but we don't feel it has been distracting," he said.

"We feel that most of those players are on the road to returning to at least full training and pretty soon full playing. So no, I don't sense there was any distraction."

 

 

Although the Bombers fought to hang on to him, Joe Daniher is likely to sit out the first half of the season with injury. Picture: Getty Images
Although the Bombers fought to hang on to him, Joe Daniher is likely to sit out the first half of the season with injury. Picture: Getty Images

 

 

Nor was the shift in the coaching structure an issue for the playing group, Richardson said.

The succession planned was confirmed, former premiership player Blake Caracella was brought in to take care of the midfield, and there were upwards and sideways moves for others.

It looms as one of the most talked about setups in the AFL this year and while the club said the shifts had been near seamless in the pre-season, the Bombers know it can only truly be measured on game day.

"(Worsfold's) style of coaching has always been to delegate and empower people around him and the coaching staff around him. From that perspective there hasn't been a huge amount of change," Richardson said.

"I think it has been relatively smooth to date.

"The players are really enjoying hearing more from the assistant coaching group around the way we want to play, and enjoying Woosha being able to spend more time with them, building relationships and probably playing more of an overseeing, management style role.

"But like any footy club we know that the test only really comes when the seasons commences, with the added element of the scoreboard."

 

 

 

 

That area, the scoreboard, and hitting it more often has been central to the pre-season plans.

Last season Essendon's average score was just 76 points per game.

The Bombers only kicked more than 100 points four times and finished almost 200 points behind every other team in the top eight.

The gap to make up isn't huge.

Premiers Richmond only averaged 88 points themselves.

But scoring should be Essendon's forte the way they can move the football.

Capitalising on that has been a pre-season focus.

Whether it works remains to be seen. But Richardson was adamant that injuries and off-field upheaval aside, this year should be fun for the Bombers.

"We've talked a little bit about the way we want to move the ball and attack and people will see some adjustments to that and we want the outcome to be that we score more goals," he said.

"We knew from last year there were times when our good footy was good, but we also had some inconsistencies. Our main aim was to iron that out and for the list to keep developing that cohesion.

"Particularly the players who we have recruited over the last few years to really gel with their teammates and produce a good brand of footy.

"If we do that we think we can have a good year."

 

 

Ben Rutten will take over the coaching duties from John Worsfold next season. Picture: AAP
Ben Rutten will take over the coaching duties from John Worsfold next season. Picture: AAP

 

 

 

THE LIST

IN: Nick Bryan, Ned Cahill, Tom Cutler, Sam Draper, Mitch Hibberd, Lachie Johnson, Harrison Jones, Cian McBride, Ross McQuillan, Andrew Phillips, Jacob Townsend

OUT: Mark Baguley, Mitch Brown, Zac Clarke, Matt Dea, Michael Hartley, Jordan Houlahan, Tom Jok, Luke Lavender, Jake Long, Ben McNeice, David Myers, Trent Mynott

After two big years at the trade table the Bombers were more low profile last year, but not inactive.

"We'd had a couple of fairly active trade period and the reality is you can't do that every year because you run out of draft picks to trade wit," Richardson said.

"As a result of that there are probably two strategies, invest in the draft and recruit on need.

"We still traded and recruited Andrew Phillips, Tom Cutler and Jacob Townsend. Those players will l hopefully be significant contributors."

Essendon has another spot to fill via the pre-season supplemental selection period (SSP) with Nigel Lockyer and Brynn Teakle in the frame.

 

 

 

 

 

OFF-CONTRACT

As the season begins the need to get a commitment from wantaway forward Joe Daniher, who is off-contract at the end of the season, should be replaced by getting Andrew McGrath and Adam Saad to ink new deals.

Both are key planks for the Bombers in 2020 and beyond, and in the final year of current contracts. Ruckman Tom Bellchambers is also in the last year of his deal. The saga around Daniher is unlikely to resolve itself until he at least plays again.

"(list manager) Adrian Dodoro has been in some preliminary discussions with their management," Richardson said of off-contract stars Saad and McGrath.

"We would never set a time frame on it. Each individual situation is different and players are entitled to take their time to make what are always important career decisions. We'll work through them in the best possible fashion."

 

 

Orazio Fantasia decided to step down from the leadership group. Picture: Getty Images
Orazio Fantasia decided to step down from the leadership group. Picture: Getty Images

 

 

 

IT'S A BIG YEAR FOR

Orazio Fantasia

Whether he wanted out last year or not, he's still at Tullamarine and remains popular with the players having polled enough votes to be in the leadership group. But he knocked it back to "focus on football" after two injury interrupted years. His pre-season has been strong and as a forward in a team which needs to kick more goals the 24-year-old needs to produce his best more often. The spotlight will be on him.

 

PRE-SEASON HERO

Devon Smith and Dylan Shiel

After playing just seven games last season, 2018 best and fairest Smith has lit up Tullamarine creating a buzz about the impact he could have this season as a goalkicking midfielder, especially working in tandem with his old GWS teammate Dylan Shiel who has upped the ante in his second season at Bomberland. Both have been included in the leadership group too.

 

BEST PLAYER YOU'VE NEVER HEARD OF

Brandon Zerk-Thatcher

The 21-year-old defender, entering his third year on the list, looks set for more exposure in 2020. A 195cm defender, he was number one for intercept possessions in the VFL across the past two seasons. He took the fourth most intercept marks of any player in the VFL last season, and took five intercept marks in his AFL debut in Round 22. His presence could release Cale Hooker in to a forward line needing marking targets.

 

 

MORE DEEP DIVES:

 

Can De Goey overcome contract saga to deliver for Pies?

 

Does anyone truly trust the Demons?

 

Window open for win-now Kangaroos



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