Essendon 2012 Season Preview

INS: Stewart Crameri (rookie elevation), Elliott Kavanagh (national draft), Jackson Merrett (national draft), Nick O’Brien (national draft).

OUTS: Darcy Daniher (retired), Josh Jenkins (Adelaide), Anthony Long (delisted), Andrew Welsh (retired), Mark Williams (retired).

YEAR IN REVIEW: Not a bad start for James Hird and his million-dollar coaching panel. The honeymoon period lasted eight weeks and netted five wins, three defeats, and third place on the ladder. The press was impressive and people started to believe the hype out of Windy Hill. Then things changed. Jobe Watson did a hamstring and Essendon won just six of their final 14 games. They did make the finals after all that but were belted by the Blues. David Zaharakis won their best and fairest but Watson was easily their most important player.

GAME BREAKER: Stewart Crameri provided the AFL with another rookie to riches story last season. The 23-year-old was a bit-part option 12 months ago but will begin this season as one of Essendon’s most lethal weapons in attack. He kicked 34 goals in 20 matches but it was his ball-winning ability inside 50 that made him dangerous. Second behind only Jobe Watson for score involvements at Essendon. Is a strong mark for his size and just needs to tidy up his goalkicking.

RISING STAR: Jake Carlisle is the gangly key defender who provided Andrew Walker with the ride for one of the marks of the decade last season. He’s going to be much more than a stepladder, mind you. He found his feet during the second half of last season and played the Bombers’ final seven games, including the elimination final defeat. Reads the game extremely well and doesn’t mind going for his marks.

KEY ARRIVAL: It was a reasonably quiet off season for the Bombers. Few comings, few goings, but the national draft could be one to boast about in the future. From the club who brought us Dyson Heppell in 2011 comes Elliott Kavanagh. The midfielder was a top-10 lock after his 2010 campaign but injury slowed him last season. He slipped to No.19 and the Bombers couldn’t get his name out quick enough.

COACH FACTOR: Hird enjoyed a golden start to life in the top job. The Bombers made the NAB Cup grand final and the improvement was evident in the first half of the season. Essendon’s form dipped for a period but Hird kept positive and guided them into the finals. The star-studded coaching panel he surrounded himself with helped the transition from commentator to coach. The loss of assistant coach Brendan McCartney to Western Bulldogs will be felt. He was highly respected inside the Essendon camp.

STATS THAT MATTER: Essendon’s leaky defence is a big concern. They conceded 100 points or more in 11 of their final 15 games last season. They’re were also ranked 16th in the AFL for conceding goals once the opposition entered their forward 50. The Bombers scored 14.7 per cent of their goals from outside 50 – the second-highest percentage of any side in the league. Meanwhile, their opposition scored 21 per cent of goals from within 15 metres, the third-highest percentage conceded.

THE VERDICT: 9th. Before coach Hird, the Bombers conceded an average of 109 points a game. In his first season last year that was reduced 102. To mix it with the best and challenge the top four, the Bombers have to significantly reduce it even further, so improvement in defence has to be priority. Essendon has a wide spread of goalkickers and is ranked fifth for scoring, but bottom five for defence is what hurts them. As good as Dustin Fletcher is, it’s time for the 36 year old to give it away at the end of the year and allow the development of key backs Hooker, Pears and Myers to be fast-tracked. It’s also time for Jetta and Davey to step up and provide real foot speed through the midfield. Missing the finals wouldn’t be a step backwards in 2012, it’s all about consolidating and developing a list that isn’t so reliant on Watson, Fletcher and Hurley. Watch draftee Kavanagh to replicate Heppell’s first-year efforts of 2011. The Bombers have upside but alot of work ahead.

BEST 22

B: Heppell Fletcher Pears

HB: Dempsey Hooker Myers

C: Melksham Stanton Zaharakis

HF: Monfries Ryder Reimers

F: Crameri Hurley Jetta

Foll: Hille Watson Hocking

I/C: Winderlich, McVeigh, Howlett

SUB: Kavanagh

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