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Footyology countdown: Can the Dons deliver on the hype?


Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti is a key part of a potent forward set-up for Essendon with his pressure and smarts around goal. Photo: GETTY IMAGES

Footyology countdown: Can the Dons deliver on the hype?

Rohan Connolly    

ESSENDON
2017 record: 12 wins, 11 losses (8th)
List age ranking (oldest to youngest): 8th
List experience ranking (most to fewest games): 11th
Footyology draw ranking (easiest to hardest): 11th

THE INS
Devon Smith (GWS), Adam Saad (Gold Coast), Jake Stringer (Western Bulldogs), Jordan Houlahan (Sturt), Brandon Zerk-Thatcher (Sturt), Matt Guelfi (Claremont), Trent Mynott (Eastern Ranges), Luke Lavender (South Australia)

THE OUTS
Craig Bird (delisted), Yestin Eades (retired), Heath Hocking (delisted), Ben Howlett (delisted), James Kelly (retred), Alex Morgan (delisted/North Melbourne), Brent Stanton (retired), Jobe Watson (retired)

THE BEST 22
B: Martin Gleeson, Cale Hooker, Patrick Ambrose
HB: Adam Saad, Michael Hurley, Conor McKenna
C: Dyson Heppell, Andrew McGrath, David Zaharakis
HF: Devon Smith, James Stewart, Orazio Fantasia
F: Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti, Joe Daniher, Jake Stringer
Foll: Tom Bellchambers, Brendon Goddard, Zach Merrett
Inter: Darcy Parish, David Myers, Travis Colyer, Josh Begley
Emerg: Kyle Langford, Aaron Francis, Jayden Laverde

THE PROGNOSIS
It would be an understatement to say there’s been a fair bit of hype over the off-season surrounding a team which ultimately limped into last year’s finals and was dumped straight out again in an elimination final thrashing. Can Essendon actually back it up?

Much of the excitement has centred around the arrival of three seasoned senior players – Jake Stringer, Devon Smith and Adam Saad. How much that trio will add to areas in which the Bombers have been most deficient is the interesting question.

Saad was a dashing half-back at Gold Coast, Stringer and Smith primarily ground-level goalkickers in forward lines at Western Bulldogs and GWS. All ooze talent. But Essendon’s biggest shortfall for a long time now has been in midfield.

To that end, Stringer and Smith have spent much of the pre-season training in midfield groups. The former’s strong frame and sharp reflexes, and Smith’s ball-winning ability should help. In AFL midfield terms, however, both are on “L plates”.

They’ll need to be quick learners. Because as potent as the Dons’ forward set-up is now, a distinct lack of midfield competitiveness remains costly, not to mention putting a backline with some question marks under even more pressure.

When Essendon had the ball last year, it was damaging. But there was a lot of one-way traffic, John Worsfold’s team just 15th for contested possession and 14th for clearances on the differentials, and conceding the fifth-most inside 50s, high indeed for a finalist.

Besides Stringer and Smith, the Dons would love another big year from Andrew McGrath, set to take on more responsibility, more from the big-bodied but injury-plagued David Myers, and their investment in another strong body, Kyle Langford, to start paying off.

Put that alongside the outside work of Zach Merrett, David Zaharakis, Dyson Heppell and Darcy Parish, and Essendon would go a long way towards a midfield contingent which can mix it with the best.

Should the Bombers win a better share of midfield ball, however, there’s plenty about which to be optimistic.

Joe Daniher is the prize asset near goal, but Cale Hooker and James Stewart are quality support in the air, and Orazio Fantasia and the excitement machine Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti terriers at ground level. All can convert, Essendon climbing from last to third on that measure last season.

Hooker staying forward (and Footyology, admittedly, isn’t a huge fan of the idea, preferring him at full-back in our best 22) does put more heat on the key defenders, though, both Michael Hartley and Patrick Ambrose required to show more competitiveness against bigger-bodied opponents than they have previously.

Again, the amount of pressure under which they are placed will be determined, largely, by the support they can muster from further afield. It’s a considerable “if”, but the benefits will be felt by the Bombers everywhere, none the least on the win-loss tally.

THE PREDICTION
8th. Could easily be higher, but as a midfield group, the Bombers have a fair bit of catching up to do. One to watch, but still with reservations.

THE LADDER SO FAR (click on team to read)
8. ESSENDON
9. WESTERN BULLDOGS
10. HAWTHORN
11. COLLINGWOOD
12. ST KILDA
13. WEST COAST
14. NORTH MELBOURNE
15. BRISBANE
16. CARLTON
17. FREMANTLE
18. GOLD COAST

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