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Bombers embracing buzz as finals beckon

Essendon are widely tipped to return to the AFL finals in 2019 and the Bombers are happy their fans are excited about their prospects.

Bombers embracing buzz as finals beckon

Essendon are widely tipped to return to the AFL finals in 2019 and the Bombers are happy their fans are excited about their prospects.

DYSON HEPPELL leads the Bombers kicks during the AFL match between the Brisbane Lions and the Essendon Bombers at The Gabba in Brisbane, Australia.
DYSON HEPPELL leads the Bombers kicks during the AFL match between the Brisbane Lions and the Essendon Bombers at The Gabba in Brisbane, Australia. Picture:Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images

If hype counted for anything, Essendon skipper Dyson Heppell would have one hand on the club's 17th AFL premiership cup before the first ball of the season is bounced.

The Bombers are the fashionable tip to not only make the finals but do some damage when they get there.


It's high expectation after finishing 11th last season but the excitement around John Worsfold's side isn't without foundation.

After a 2-6 start in 2018, Essendon stormed home with 10 wins from 14 games, playing the sort of fast-paced attacking football that gets fans on side.

The bold recruiting spree that netted Devon Smith, Adam Saad and Jake Stringer paid immediate dividends, even though the latter endured some rough patches.

Smith's insatiable appetite for tackling earned him a Crichton Medal, Saad's exciting runs off half-back saw him place fourth in the best-and-fairest and Stringer kicked 30 goals to win the goalking award.

Essendon's barnstorming finish was achieved without Joe Daniher, who was sidelined after round seven with chronic osteitis pubis. But the club is confident the spearhead is finally on top of the issue.

Throw in a rejuvenated Aaron Francis, a fully fit-again Michael Hurley and boom GWS recruit Dylan Shiel and it's little wonder there's a buzz about the Bombers.

"You'd rather people are optimistic, there's no doubt about that," Essendon football chief Dan Richardson told AAP.

"The reality is, though, that what people say or think doesn't have any bearing on how you actually perform.

"We talk about being where your feet are and keeping present ... what people try to predict in terms of ladder positions come the end of the year? We can't do anything about that right now.

"But what we can do is prepare as well as we possibly can."

That preparation hasn't been without setbacks, however, with Heppell (hamstring tendinitis), Smith (bicep), Zach Merrett (ankle), Martin Gleeson (ankle) and Daniher all modified at various stages, with Cale Hooker to miss the start of the season with a hamstring injury.

Daniher's woes, in particular, were felt deeply on and off the field last year.

The likeable lad from the famous football family looked a shadow of himself as he struggled through the early rounds.

But the sight of him steaming out to mark on the lead and goal in the first minute of the first pre-season match against old enemy Carlton warmed Essendon hearts.

"It's pleasing to see him out there again," Richardson said.

"Chronic injuries, particularly through that groin/hip region, the medical team would say they are one of the more complicated and difficult injuries to assess and then treat.

"But our team has been really thorough, as has Joe, and the important point all along was to just get him right and playing footy for the next 10 years."

Daniher's goal-square presence can only boost Essendon's attacking prowess but it's their tendency to leak scores that stands between them and finals footy.

The club shrewdly poached well-respected assistant coach Ben Rutten from Richmond to help in that area and they've done a mountain of work to ensure they are a more balanced outfit.

"Our defensive work improved (as the year went on) but it still didn't really stack up with the top eight to 10 teams," Richardson said.

"Out of that, in terms of the game plan, building a defensive system has been a strong pre-season focus but that's not to say we don't want to be a team that scores goals as efficiently as possible."

ESSENDON

Coach: John Worsfold

Captain: Dyson Heppell

Last five years: 7-15-18-8-11

Premierships: 16 (1897, 1901, 1911, 1912, 1923, 1924, 1942, 1946, 1949, 1950, 1962, 1965, 1984, 1985, 1993, 2000).

Key five: Dyson Heppell, Michael Hurley, Zach Merrett, Devon Smith, Joe Daniher.

One to watch: Dylan Shiel. The Bombers pulled off a huge coup when they won the race to sign the powerful GWS midfielder. Shiel adds another layer of class to an already strong midfield, not to mention a hard-edged attack on the contest.

Ins: Zac Clarke (Subiaco), Noah Gown (Gippsland), Brayden Ham (Geelong Falcons), Tom Jok (Collingwood VFL), Irving Mosquito (Gippsland), Dylan Shiel (GWS).

Outs: Travis Colyer (Fremantle), Brendon Goddard (delisted), Josh Green (delisted), Matthew Leuenberger (retired), Jackson Merrett (delisted).

Best line-up:

B: Aaron Francis, Michael Hurley, Martin Gleeson

HB: Adam Saad, Cale Hooker, Conor McKenna

C: David Zaharakis, Dyson Heppell, Andrew McGrath

HF: Orazio Fantasia, Jake Stringer, Dylan Shiel

F: Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti, Joe Daniher, Devon Smith

R: Tom Bellchambers, Zach Merrett, David Myers

I: Darcy Parish, Kyle Langford, Matt Guelfi, Jayden Laverde

Predicted finish: 7th

AAP


AAP




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