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Essendon (Last year 14 wins) – 12.5 wins – Over/Under $1.88
Looking back: Essendon had the most tumultuous year in AFL history. It started with the blackest day in sport and dragged on all season long. The drug and doping saga that followed the players, club and administration was unprecedented. Initially, its impact seemed to galvanise the players and I am sure we can all remember the epic Friday night performance by embattled captain Jobe Watson over in Perth. As the season wore on, the wheels started to fall off. The Bombers lost 5 of their last 6 games to finish the season at 14 wins and 8 losses. As we know the club was disqualified from the finals and demoted to 9th position. With the drugs saga off their back, the Essendon FC can attack 2014 with a chip on their shoulder and something to prove, even with head coach and club legend James Hird watching from the sidelines.
What went wrong: Essendon flew the gates with a brilliant 13-3 record but from there it was a disaster. Losses to Hawthorn and Collingwoodwere expected but not by 9 and 13 goals given the form they had shown previously. An upset loss to West Coast at Etihad Stadium outlined the toll the year had taken on the Bombers. The biggest concern late in the year was the scoring. Goals were abundant earlier in the year and later on the bombers struggled to put up 70 points. A restructured forward line with more potency is certainly on the agenda for the Bombers which is certainly attainable.
Player movement: The Bombers were not overly active over the off-season. They were linked to players like Dal Santo and Martin but the big name didn’t come across. The Bombers did gain Paul Chapman from Geelong who probably has 1 or max 2 good seasons left in him. At his best he is a game changer but injuries have forced him to watch from the stands more than impact on the field.
Losing Gumbleton, Crameri, Hille and Davey shouldn’t hurt the Bombers. Gumbleton was struggling for form (had been for half a dozen seasons – albeit with injury), Davey can be replaced by Delolio or Jetta and Hille with Belchambers and Ryder. Crameri may be the biggest loss as his high half forward role is not easily filled. Perhaps, a fit Winderlich could step in and be that high target but Crameri’s size was a difficult match up for opposing defences. All in all, nothing too dramatic for the Bombers.
What to expect: Season 2014 promises to be a very interesting year for the Dons. The bounce back from the media crazy 2013 and adapting to Bomber Thompson as the new/interim coach will be fascinating. You would think the players have seen and heard plenty from Bomber the past couple of years and the game style/attitude will be similar to Hird. It is certainly not a step back given the resume and standing of Bomber in the game and especially the coaching ranks.
Word coming out of Windy Hill (Tullamarine actually) is that Hurley is going to play down back. This is going to be the best move the club has made in 18 months. Hurley was a phenomenal junior at FB/CHB. Dual All-Australian with Vic Metro and a clear top 10 pick as a defender, which is rare. He has developed enough now to play on the best forwards or play as a damaging big man if Carlisle takes the monster forwards. He will be a revelation down back and should start to make supporters proud rather than hopeful and apprehensive.
Draw: The draw doesn’t look disastrous but isn’t favourable either. Only 1 game against (GWS, GC, MEL, STK, BRIS, NM, ADE) who all missed the 8 last year is not ideal. They should present as winnable games along with two clashes with arch rivals (CARL, COLL). The Bombers will need to perform well against teams like Richmond, Geelong and Carlton to return to the finals. If they can get off to a god start, as they have in previous seasons, against North Melbourne, Carlton and last year’s Grand Finalists (HAW, FRE) they can set up a strong winning season.
Final Word: You would think that their form from the majority of last year will get them into the finals. They were in contention for a top 4 berth most of the year and let it slip late. If Daniher or Ryder pushing forward can kick 30+ goals it would really assist the smaller goal kicking types like Zaharakis, Winderlich and even midfielders like Goddard. Heppell is a gun and will only get better, Goddard will be crucial again and an injury free season from Watson will make that midfield very powerful.
Essendon have 6 games that they would have permanent marker-ed in and another 10-12 winnable games which will obviously dictate their season. Richmond (x2), Carlton (x2), Collingwood (x2) and Geelong/North Melbourne games especially. I would expect Essendon to be right there for the top 4 by round 14 again and baring another late season drop off I can see then winning 14 games again.
Essendon OVER 12.5 wins – $1.88