Great year from beloved Essendon Football Club. With Knights removed immediately after the 2010 season the Hird/Thompson regime swooped to power and preceded to do absolutely nothing. No major trades or delistings to start the new era. Well except one. Jay Neagle was given his marching orders and told to get in shape. The message was loud and clear though. The expectations on players were high and they were pushed to the limit throughout the summer.
The Bombers that showed up in the NAB Cup were fitter. Hungrier. You could see it in the way they moved and challenged their opponents. They weren't going to be swept aside and weren't going to be blown out. Their systematic demolition of the Bulldogs in Round 1 showed that Hird knew a thing or two and between he and his staff had figured out a few things about the list.
Dyson Heppell was a player. A natural who commanded immediate respect for his poise. He played every game and, for most of them, played well. Heath Hocking looked fitter and continued his improvement from 2010. There were changes though. Crameri lined up alongside Hurley and dominated both in the air and on the ground. He ended up the leading goal kicker and was sorely missed late in the season. Introduced late by Knights, Hird had found another avenue to goal. Hardingham had been Knights' answer to this problem though this year he proved a revelation down back. His huge leap and Fletcher-like arms disrupted contests across the defense. He improved remarkably across the season and for me was one of the real finds. Everyone knew David Zaharakis had something special and the increased time in the midfield allowed him to show it. After interrupted seasons in 2009 and 2010 he played every game this year and did enough in each become an automatic selection and win the best and fairest. Leeroy Jetta's start to the season deserves a mention as he out performed Alwyn Davey who was forced in the VFL for extended periods. Tom Bellchambers proved himself capable when he got a run. He rucks well and was able to go forward and stretch smaller defenses. Lovely mark of the ball too. The likes of Melksham and Howlett continued to improve in the midfield late in the year as the injury toll mounted. Howlett in particular seems to have learned a thing or two from his captain and is made of strong stuff.
Unfortunately the injury toll mounted and the lists lack of depth was exposed. While the Geelong win came from a side that missed Jobe Watson, the midfield was largely lost without him. Hocking continued to assert himself and really showed he is an integral part of the side. With limited opportunities as a small forward, Sam Lonergan went on the ball and fit in well as a back up for Jobe and Hocking. He certainly improved as the year went on and was missed in the final. Courtney Dempsey looked good in the first few rounds and his pace was sorely missed out of half back when he did his knee. Winderlich too brought pace to the half forward line- certainly Davey could match him for speed but not for smarts and accountability. The loss of these players, and holes created by a rolling stream of injuries to Hooker, Pears, Hurley, Watson, Welsh and Hocking, left the team exposed. McVeigh looked slow but his commitment was solid. Others, such as Remiers, Slattery and Dyson, got games by default and rarely made an impact. Stanton, despite his knockers, was a solid contributor in the midfield and worked hard to get himself into games. Unfortunately he chose inopportune times to kick poorly.
The rucks barely fired all year. The three ruck experiment didn't work, mainly because they didn't contribute enough when they went forward. They often got in Hurley's way or each others and weren't quick enough to pick up the clumsy crumbs. Hille struggles were largely due to a lack of fitness. He didn't have a full preseason due to injury and came in underdone. He was, however, the third most important player behind Jobe and Hurley and could genuinely influence a game when willing. Ryder was so up and down that it was hard to tell where his head was at. Some games he was ace but seemed to lack the athleticism and leap that made him so effective the last few years. If the price was right a new home could do him well in 2012.
The defense struggled under pressure and exposed the lack of defensive work there had been with Knights as coach. They couldn't stick tackles and lacked the skills to help each other at a contest. This is the next step in the path to the premiership. The tall stocks are good which could make Hooker expendable if a decent midfielder was on the table. A fit Pears is a must for next year. Carlise came into the side late and showed further promise. Certainly a keeper who, like Hurley, can play both ends.
Overall, any year that a team returns to the finals is a good one. A number of players put their hands up, and we found out that a few players were done. Williams has already retired without firing a shot and Welsh was let down by his body too often in the last couple of years. Slattery and Dyson did little when picked, which was only when players were missing. Davey and Remiers didn't show the consistency expected of senior players but have no real trade value and will get another year to produce. Colyer did well as a sub and has some speed.
The future is bright Bomber fans! Our best side is very competitive and the new regime are committed to developing this side.
Best 22 2011
B: Fletcher, Pears, Heppell
HB: Hardingham, Hooker, Dempsey
C: Jetta, Stanton, Howlett
HF: Zaharakis, Hurley, Monfries
F: Melksham, Crameri, Winderlich
R: Ryder, Watson, Hocking
I/C: McVeigh, Hille, Lonergan
EMRG: Lovett-Murray (an effect sub early on, but still makes horrible decisions), Reimers, Davey, Bell Chambers.
This side never took the park. If it does watch out!