The Foreign Legion

Much is said about the 1993 “Baby Bombers” and the influence they had in winning the club’s 15th premiership. Watching the matches this week from Round 6 (The Salmon/Ablett shootout), the incredible Preliminary Final fightback against Adelaide and the clinical premiership match against Carlton, the new breed were sensational.
The deeds of Hird, Mercuri, Misiti, Olarenshaw, Calthorpe, Alessio and Fletcher is the stuff of legends. But it is also very fair and pertinent to point out they they could not possibly have had that impact without some serious firepower aiding and protecting them.
The season also featured the sensational efforts of older, wiser heads in Long, Wanganeen, Harvey, Salmon, O’Donnell, Thompson, Denham, Bewick, two Danihers (Anthony & Chris) and a host of other support cast in Somerville, Grenvold, Kickett and company. The club also snared two greats of the 80s, Watson and Ezard, from the clutches of retirement.
It is now folklore that the “Baby Bombers” of 1993 won that flag, Wanganeen won that year’s Brownlow and Hird would follow in 1996 and the core of the 1993 squad would reunite to win the 2000 flag.
So, what does history tell us if we look back on 1993 and see what lessons can be taken for our 2016 team. We have a squad decimated by the ASADA/CAS fallout, but also by retirements at the end of 2015 and various delistings. The 2016 list is but a ghost of the team that ran out in 2014.
There is an incredibly deep list of genuine young talent. Any list boasting Laverde, the Merrett brothers, Langford, Parish, Francis, Daniher, Gleeson, Fantasia, Edwards, Redman, Eades, Morgan, Nyuon, Wallis, Hams and company has some serious potential.
But the combined effects listed above has robbed them of the necessary protection required to develop and prosper in the most beneficial way.
From their lists of recent years, those still available would bleed red and black to help the young. Goddard, himself recruited from the Saints, Baguley and Dempsey would try but they wouldn’t be enough.
This article is not designed to raise the arguments about guilt, innocence, the rightness or otherwise of the “top-up” program or any of the associated issues. There are enough other forums for that. This article looks at how Essendon have set about rebuilding an experience framework that will teach, protect and develop the youth which might otherwise fall away.
This framework does go back to Goddard. Brought to the club as much for his leadership skills as much as his talent, Goddard was identified as a player still in a premiership window who had enough experience as a Saint’s leader to come to a new home and develop a young list. His rise to captaincy this year echoes that decision. Yes, he does need to find a different manner to lead with, but his determination to succeed will see him do that.
Adam Cooney didn’t win a Brownlow Medal, and be a number one draft pick, by accident. He is an incredible talent who has suffered form loss through injury. But if he only makes it onto the field a dozen times in 2016 you can bet he will pass on his knowledge to the kids around him. He wants to leave a football legacy to match his glittering career. His torpedo punt goal in Round One last year against the Swans proved that he still has traces of that talent. Maybe this year he can take his comeback to another level. Off field, however, he will be a massive boost for the youth.
Shaun McKernan was almost on the footy scrapheap. Delisted by the Crows, he gained a lifeline at Essendon and from there showed a resolve to prove doubters wrong that he brought smiles to Essendon faces when little else did. Hiss season was a revelation and proof that he still has the talent, now matched with a new drive.
James Gwilt is a St Kilda grand-final player with bucket loads of experience as a mobile defender. Craig Bird is a Swans premiership player. Crowley is a Fremantle grand final player. James Kelly played in three Geelong flags and Matthew Stokes two. Jonathan Simpkin is a Hawthorn premiership player. Matt Dea and James Polkinghorne have not tasted that level of team success, but both are reigning VFL Best and Fairest winners for their respective clubs.
Big Matthew Leuenberger from Brisbane and “The Russian” Mark Jamar are two big ruckmen with over 250 games experience between them. Jamar was an All-Australian in 2010. They can both play and will bring even more experience and flexibility to this team. The latest addition of former Hawk, Sam Grimley, sees the club add another near-200cm colossus who has twice won the VFL goalkicking award.
Mitch Brown showed enormous promise at Geelong, as did Michael Hartley at Collingwood. It was injury, not a lack of talent, that saw them return to the VFL only to have their careers resurrected by the Bombers. They have another chance to fulfil their immense potential.
Not one of these players lacks talent. They have the runs on the board to prove it. What remains to be seen is how their bodies and minds hold up to the changes in circumstances, geography, expectations and drama to which they have come.
John Worsfold didn’t expect quite this amount of high drama when he took on the coaching role at Essendon. He knew of the scandals and the potential for losing players, but not the ultimate magnitude. Now he has a foreign legion at his disposal that has the potential to give cover to a new breed of youth waiting for mentors.
The French Foreign Legion was a collection of foreign nationals that signed on to fight for France. It currently numbers members from around 140 countries. The Essendon “Foreign Legion” has added players from Adelaide, Brisbane, Collingwood, Fremantle, Geelong, Hawthorn, Melbourne, Richmond, Sydney, Western Bulldogs and a coach from West Coast. All have signed on to see the Bombers rise and each brings something to the table to suggest it can.
Time will tell, but at the moment the 2016 version of the “Baby Bombers”, which initially lost it’s valuable mentors, has now had another new crop arrive to complete the job. It might be folly, but suggestions of the demise of Essendon might just be a shade premature thanks to the arrival of The Foreign Legion.

About Wesley Hull

Passionate lover of Australian Rules football. Have played and coached the game and now spend my time writing about the game I love and introducing young people to the game through school coaching. Will try and give back to the game what it has given me for more that 40 years.

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