Essendon reached last year’s final as a team on the rise, but everything has gone wrong since then.

At the end of last year’s home and away season, many in football, including Essendon fans, were excited by the team’s late rise to reach the final in 2021.

Under first-year coach Ben Rutten, the Bombers have won five of their last seven games to clinch a place in September – they were playing exciting football with plenty of young talent and Essendon looked to be a team on the rise.

Fast-forward eight games and it’s a very different story.

The Bombers were eliminated from the finals by the Western Bulldogs, before falling to a 1-6 record after seven rounds, culminating in a final loss to the Bulldogs themselves, who, while having their own struggles this season, had too much in reserve for Essendon. .

The team is out of rhythm, the fans are unsettled, the players are under fire for their performances on the pitch, the manager has admitted his frustration and the club is definitely not where he thought it would be at the moment.

So what has caused this perfect storm in Bomberland?

The two Essendons

Let’s take the seven games leading up to the final and compare it to the eight that came after.

Rounds 17-23:

Darcy Parish had 47 clearances for Essendon between the 17th and 23rd rounds last season.(Getty Images/AFL Photos: Darrian Traynor)

The signs were good. A little before this period, in round 15, they held Melbourne’s eventual debuts two goals away at the MCG, and in round 21 they beat the other future grand finalists, the Western Bulldogs, by 13 points.

Some of the other wins were against less impressive opponents (Gold Coast, Adelaide, Collingwood and North Melbourne). But they also closed in on the GWS heading into the final; form-wise, they were ticking boxes.

The Bombers were winning punts, led by Darcy Parish, who was on pace for a top-five finish at Brownlow. They had the upper hand inside the 50, taking an average of four more marks inside the 50 and averaging five more tackles inside the forward arc than their opponents.

The effort was there, and the results too.

Final elimination round 7:

Looking back at the end of the season, it is perhaps not surprising that the Bulldogs, who then scared Melbourne for two and a half quarters in the grand final, had too much firepower for Essendon in the elimination final.

An Essendon AFL player holds out his arms as he falls to the ground near the ball while surrounded by Western Bulldogs players.
Marcus Bontempelli tackles Jake Stringer during the 2021 AFL First Elimination Final game between the Western Bulldogs and the Essendon Bombers.(Getty Images: Rob Blakers)

But the size of the loss (49 points) and the magnitude of it were hugely disappointing. The Bombers were well beaten in contested possessions and punts, the Bulldogs produced 18 tackles within 50 to put serious pressure on Essendon, and Rutten’s team was forced to make 80 tackles on the ground.

Sentiment was still positive going into 2022, but even before the first round things started to go wrong.

Will Snelling did his calf days before the season opener, so Essendon had to go without his forward pressure – he hasn’t returned and is still seen a few weeks away.

Anthony McDonald Tipungwuti last played for Essendon in the 21st round – missing his pressure against the Bulldogs and in the games after, not to mention his ability to score goals and assists. Kyle Langford then suffered a hamstring injury in the opening game.

However, it is not just the staff that is out. Given the relevant records (5-2 late last year to 1-7 since then), you might expect the team to be down across the board, and you’d be right.

But some areas stand out. The Bombers are allowing 10 more turnovers per game than they were at the end of last season, are averaging three fewer goals per game in 2022, are 4.5 per game fewer in clearances, 3.5 in marks contested, 2.6 in marks within the 50 and 3.3 in tackles within 50.

Turnovers aside, the only place Essendon is improving is a slight increase in overall tackles and contested possessions, and a big jump in uncontested possessions: the Bombers are averaging 267.5 per game, 34 more than at the end of the season. last year.

All of this helps paint a picture. The midfield is struggling: Devon Smith is out of shape and off the side, Dylan Shiel was ruled out last week and later pardoned due to a late start. Captain Dyson Heppell is down in several areas, including the entrances and the inner 50.

Overall, the 50-inners are down slightly, but against the Demons (39), Dockers (41) and last weekend against the Bulldogs (41), the numbers are down.

The Bombers had more possession than the Bulldogs, but their cautious, lateral style meant they went forward 50 27 fewer times.

This doesn’t seem like a quick fix – it’s not just about a couple of key areas, it’s general.

Whether the result is a result of style of play, or lack of execution by players, or both, what is clear is that confidence levels are at a low point.

Where to now?

The pressure is mounting fast on Essendon, and the schedule doesn’t offer much help for the foreseeable future.

First to arrive are the Hawks at Docklands on Saturday night, which forms almost like a line in the sand.

A serious-looking AFL coach talks to a player three-quarters of the way through a game as other players stand nearby watching.
Ben Rutten and Essendon had hoped to build on last year’s final appearance, but the task facing the manager and his team looks much more difficult after seven rounds of 2022.(Getty Images/AFL Photos: Dylan Burns)

Hawthorn was tipped for the wooden spoon by many experts before the start of the season; instead they are just one game over 15 per cent of the top eight, with wins over Port Adelaide and Geelong along the way.

Then there’s a trip to Sydney to face the Swans, followed by a test against Richmond at the MCG. Next up will be a trip to Adelaide to take on the Powers, who are slowly recovering from their own horrific start to the year.

Round 12 is the bye, before the games against Carlton and St Kilda.

There is still a lot of talent on this list. And there are a number of players who will be back in the mix.

Rutten recently acknowledged that McDonald’s Tipungwuti was “still a long way off.”

But if the Bombers could get him back, he would lift the team: At his best, he brings game-changing ability, not just his forward pressing and goal assists, but his ability to get up and kick three, four or five goals.

If they can get some players back, increase their intensity and convert more chances, the atmosphere could change. Even if Essendon could manage to win three of the next six, the finals would probably be out of the question, but it could be a staple for next year.

The danger is that if the problems persist, there is a chance that the Bombers will fail to get a win in this next series of games, which would leave them at 1-12 with the season in shambles and a rethink of where the club is. . he sits

Regardless, the pressure will be on the coach, and his team, for the foreseeable future.

Leave a Comment