Bomber Deception: Don't Be Fooled By Essendon's 2-6 Start
Perhaps it's cold comfort for a club only too familiar with extreme discomfort in recent decades, but Essendon’s 2-6 start has actually been very encouraging.
While sure, this is just the third time in the last 50 years the Bombers have begun a season so poorly on the win-loss ledger, you could equally argue this has actually been their most positive start in some time.
And rather than the losses, or its current 15th place position on the ladder, a much happier story can be found within their 95.65 percentage which stands out remarkably among teams who have commenced a campaign so poorly in recent times.
Since 2010, we’ve had 47 teams navigate their first 8 games with no more than two wins, and though Essendon is positioned among this ragtag group, they actually stand out like a sore thumb.
And while the wins aren’t yet coming for this storied, though fallen outfit, there’s plenty of positives, the likes of which might even foretell a seriously bright future for a team who’s now gone 17 straight years without a September win.
For starters, the Bombers continue to set the league standard from a tacking perspective.
They’ve in fact won the tackle count in all 8 of their matches so far, while their obscene +15 overall tackle differential is not only dwarfing the league, but it’s the largest number in recorded history.
Even more encouraging for Bomber fans is that it’s so many of their younger faces who are beginning to stand up and be noticed.
Of their trio of first-round picks last season, Nik Cox and Archie Perkins have already combined for 14 of a possible 16 games and appear eminently capable at senior level, yet it’s actually Harry Jones form the 2019 draft who’s got most Bomber tongue’s wagging.
The big, lanky Gisborne-raised Calder Cannon has played every match this season, is averaging a goal and a tackle a game while he leads all Rising Star eligible players with 9 contested marks so far. At Bomberland, only Cale Hooker (17) has hauled in more than Jones’ 13 marks inside-50.
At a time when Essendon fans are pretending not to care about Joe Daniher’s exploits in his new home in Brisbane, Jones’ 2021 emergence has helped significantly.
Yet for all their tacking prowess and the allure of youth, the Bombers continue to keep shooting themselves in the foot, already losing 3 games by less than a kick this season.
While Essendon’s total turnover and overall disposal efficiency don’t paint a disastrous picture (they actually rank 5th for disposal efficiency and 7th for turnovers) some of their senior players are letting them down enormously when it comes to sloppiness.
While Andrew McGarth is enjoying a breakout seasoning and is perhaps best placed to win his first ever Best and Fairest gong, his 69.2% disposal efficiency has been a thorn in he and team’s side.
As for Devon Smith, this is his 10th season of AFL football, yet it’ll be his 9th where he’s failed to crack at least 70% on the efficiency front.
Zach Merrett, easily the club’s most prolific and decorated player is operating at 70.5% and going at just 58.2% by foot which are both down on his 71% and 61% career averages.
As for Jake Stringer, his overall 58.6% efficiency places him 4th-last at the club, and while Darcy Parish is enjoying a career-high 27.8 disposals per game, his 68.9% efficiency is preventing him from truly breaking out.
And speaking of breaking out, this is precisely what the Bombers are desperately longing for after years in the competitive wilderness. Whilst the narrow losses and their senior player's proclivity for missing targets is causing fans to tear out whatever hair they have left, the Bombers mightn't actually be too far away from contention.
Of those 47 teams we mentioned earlier, there’s a couple of history lessons lurking within which Essendon could benefit from studying.
While the Swans started their 2017 season 2-6, their encouraging 94.2 percentage indicated a far more capable team, the likes of which then won 13 of its next 15 games, secured an improbable September spot and won its Elimination Final by 11 goals.
In that same season Collingwood was also mired at 2-6, yet sported a positive 91.3 percentage. They, like Sydney, cleaned up their act to win 7 of their last 14 games, and while they missed finals, they came within a kick of adding a 16th premiership to the trophy cabinet just 12 months later.
If Essendon’s youth can keep developing, if the club can keep tackling like crazy, and if their senior players can stop turning the ball over, so much is actually in place for the Bombers to turn things rounds both quickly and dramatically.
While their fans have experienced a guided tour through hell in recent years, and which has only been elongated by these agonising losses in 2021, a bright new era might actually be just around the corner.
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