The-Way-Too-Early 2013 Preview: Essendon

I’ve deliberately gone out of my way to avoid writing about all the recent developments surrounding the Dons, and instead tried to focus on just football.


Team Discovery Channel The Bombers had the most Jekyll and Hyde season in recent memory. At the conclusion of round 9 they had eight wins and were sitting pretty in second place on the ladder. A shocking six point loss to the hapless Demons the following week commenced a second half tailspin which saw them lose ten of the next thirteen games and fall to 11th on the ladder.

(Gee I broke that promise straight away)

Every week seemed to bring a new soft tissue injury. In fact, only two Bombers managed to play in every game last season, Jobe Watson and Jake Melksham.

A horror second half to the season ended on a high when Watson claimed the Brownlow Medal, edging out Trent Cotchin and Sam Mitchell by four votes. The off-season would continue to be fruitful for the Dons, snagging the first big free agency fish in Brendon Goddard, and snaring the immensely talented Joe Daniher at a bargain price on draft day (he probably would’ve gone first) thanks to the father-son mechanism. Angus Monfries departed for Port Adelaide, Mark McVeigh called it a day, but Dustin Fletcher, who was around for the Cretaceous Period, is still around.

Nothing much happened since draft day though. There really is a lot of warmth underneath this rock here. Anybody want to watch Pumping Iron?

(When I said I went out of my way, what I really meant was I only did it a few times)

2012 Key Statistics

Essendon 2012 Offensive

Average per Game

Competition Rank




Contested Possessions






Inside 50s


tied 3rd

Marks Inside 50








tied 9th


Essendon 2012 Defensive

Average per Game

Competition Rank

Points Against



Inside 50s Conceded



Marks Inside 50 Conceded


tied 14th





Essendon 2012 Offensive/Defensive Differentials


Competition Rank

Inside 50s Opponent Differential(Total Inside 50s minus Total Inside 50s conceded)



Marks Inside 50 Opponent Differential(Total Marks Inside 50 minus Total Marks Inside 50 conceded)




What are they great at?

The Bombers were great at one thing in 2012, getting the ball inside 50.

However, given they only finished 10th for marks inside 50, and tied 9th for goals per game, it’s fair to assume that the quality of many of those entries was poor.

What are they good at?

Essendon were reasonably good when it came to winning hit outs thanks to the three headed ruck monster that is Tom Bellchambers, Patrick Ryder and David Hille. Unfortunately they didn’t take advantage of this when it came to clearances.

What do they need to improve?

Pretty much everything. The bombers were a below average side when it came to clearances, marks inside 50, tackles, and the defensive side of the game.

What are they bad at?

Essendon’s failure when it comes to clearances is absolutely abhorrent when you consider the following two things:

  1. They finished 5th for hit-outs per game
  2. In Jobe Watson they have the player who averages the second most clearances per game in the entire competition.

So despite above average ruck production, and the second best clearance winner in the entire league, the Bombers as a team could only finish 14th in terms of clearances per game.

Essendon are about as close as it gets to a one man team in the middle of the park. Watson had nearly double the amount of clearances as their next best (Ben Howlett), and averaged nearly five more contested possessions than the next best (Ben Howlett again). Whenever Watson wasn’t winning the ball himself, he was letting off flares and sending out Morse code distress signals.

Defence was another problem area for the Dons, and they were probably lucky to finish only 11th in points against per game all things considered. They allowed their opposition to enter the forward fifty with ease, and let them take marks while it was down there. Despite finishing tied for third in terms of their own inside 50 entries, their Inside 50 opponent differential rank was only 12th. I can’t stress how bad this is. They leaked opposition forward fifty entries. Here, have a table comparing them with the other teams who ranked high when it came to getting the ball forward:

Inside 50s Rank

Inside 50s Opponent Differential Rank








tied 3rd



tied 3rd


The first thing you’re thinking is “woah, the Bombers are way off the other three”, and the second thing you’re thinking is “wait, Richmond?”


Points of Interest in 2013

Brendon Goddard

This off-season past marked the first in which free agency took place and Brendon Goddard was the number one prize on offer. The 27 year old utility spent most of his recent time at St Kilda on the half-back flank in a role designed to instigate much of St Kilda’s attacking movement. Goddard’s biggest strength lies in his ability to play practically anywhere, putting him in a position to influence a game in a myriad of ways. There is probably no better example of this than the drawn 2010 Grand Final. His 31 disposals and 2 goal performance against Collingwood was exemplary.

There is an elephant in the room that nobody ever seems to mention though. He hasn’t come remotely close to impacting the game to that degree since.

Goddard Averages 2010 – 2012


Contested Possessions Marks




9.48 6.88




7.43 5.7




8.1 6.05



Goddard continues to rack up impressive numbers, but not quite as impressive as the ones in 2010. The problem goes beyond just numbers though. For all his talent, Goddard simply does not influence enough games to the degree that he is capable. Fans should be worried going up against Goddard, but for the most part I don’t think they are. A lot of this has to do with him sitting on the half-back line. Conversely, I bet most fans feel a bit of twinge when they see him line up in the middle, or even up forward. We naturally associate these positions as being more impactful on the game, at least in an attacking sense, and for the most part it’s correct (Andrew McLeod’s stint on the half-back line in the early 2000s is perhaps the most notable exception in recent memory). Goddard on the half-back line isn’t McLeod on the half-back line. Goddard on the half-back line isn’t scary. Goddard anywhere else is. We can’t expect what he delivered in that Grand Final every week of the home and away season, but it showed how influential he can be when he is given license to roam. It will be interesting to see where the Bombers choose to use Goddard, and the footballing fan in me hopes it’s either the midfield or in a roaming role.

Who Plays Where?

It feels like this discussion has been going on for about three years now, but again there are questions as to where Patrick Ryder best benefits the Dons.

Ryder has consistently played his best football in the ruck. The “problem” here is the Bombers have two other serviceable ruck-men in Tom Bellchambers and David Hille. Last season both injury and form resulted in the Bombers employing a whole host of different ruck setups.

Games Ryder Avg HO BC Avg HO Hille Avg HO Avg Total HO Avg Clearances # times clearances > opposition
Ryder and Bellchambers 10 17.9 23.3 43.2 38.2 6
Ryder and Hille 5 30 14.2 46.6 35.2 3
Hille and Bellchambers 3 31.66 7 41 32.6 0
Just Bellchambers 3 40 42.3 36.6 2
Just Hille 1 20 24 32 0

Ideally the Bombers would go into games with two rucks, Ryder and Bellchambers. The Dons only lost the hit-out battle twice last season, but had the most success in clearances when Bellchambers was involved. Hird and company will be hoping Bellchambers can continue to build on his breakout season and shoulder the majority of the ruck load, freeing Ryder into a 2nd ruck role and allowing him to spend more time up forward or down back. Ryder’s versatility has often led to him being plugged into whichever hole needs filling on any given day, and I’d expect more of the same in 2013.

Poor Reporting

Amidst all the scandalous headlines of the past week, we’ve lost sight of the real issues, like “who will play James Hird in the next season of Underbelly?” and “how badly will Channel Nine flog it during their cricket coverage?”


The Bombers showed in the first half of 2012 that when they’re on they can beat anyone. Unfortunately in the second half they showed they can lose, and often get destroyed, by many of those same teams. There are way too many question marks to confidently earmark Essendon as a legitimate top four contender. While an immense footballer on his day, Goddard hasn’t played in the middle of the park often enough at St Kilda lately to declare he alone will solve their dire midfield situation. Throwing Zaharakis and Heppell into the middle more often should improve the Dons midfield output sooner rather than later, but I’m not prepared to predict an Adelaide-esque turn around in the Bomber’s midfield fortunes.

Up forward Joe Daniher and Michael Hurley have all the makings of a dynamic duo in the years to come, but it is extremely unlikely Daniher, talented as he is, is going to be physically and mentally prepared to be a focal point this early in his career. Hurley has shown signs, but seems to play forward more out of necessity than anything else. If Scott Gumbleton could ever get over his injury woes, then eventually Hurley could return to the defensive arc where he is probably better at this stage.

Speaking of defence, there have been no major personnel changes here for the Bombers, which means the group as a whole is going to have to improve dramatically on last year’s efforts if they are to reclaim a finals berth. The majority of the defence, Fletcher aside, is still young, so improvement should be expected. How much improvement is made will be key.

The addition of Goddard means the Bombers are signalling the fact they mean to contend sooner rather than later. I think they are a year or two off from being a serious top four contender. The depth of the side is thin, and the cream they do possess isn’t enough to simply will them up the ladder. I think a seventh or eighth placed finish is probably the best case scenario for the Bombers in 2013, though in truth I wouldn’t be surprised to see them hovering around the 10 to 11 spots again come seasons end.

About Adam Ritchie

My name is Adam. I started watching football with two fellow parapsychologists in an abandoned firehouse. When we’re not watching footy, we’re running our own pest control business. What do you mean I stole that from Ghostbusters?


  1. Colin Ritchie says

    As a keen Bomber supporting I remain forever optimistic that the boys will eventually pull through and take off the big one! I must admit the last few years have been extremely frustrating not only for me but all Essendon supporters. For me it was along trip home back to the bush after some of those disappointing defeats last season especially the Melbourne game. However my faith still remains and I believe it will be up to the young brigade, the Danihers, Brownes, Merritts, O’Briens etc to begin to make their mark and hopefully takes us onwards and upwards. Time will tell! Cheers..

  2. Colin Ritchie says

    Sorry about typo, should be supporter, not supporting. Got to watch that automatic spellchecker!

  3. Very detailed summary and analysis as always. Really enjoying your series Adam.
    I do think Goddard is a great asset. Watching him last year for the Saints, he was just disinterested and going through the motions. The loss of the GF’s and then Lyon seemed to destroy any passion he had for the game.
    He is in the top 10 in the comp at his prime, and the change of environment generally reinvigorates those sort of players.
    Colin – I reckon Goddard + the Bendigo Bombers will give you a lot of excitement this year.

  4. I think the Gliders will continue to struggle until they can stiffen their backline up. Their talls are consistently outmarked by opposition forwards as the stats suggest but this has gone on for several seasons now. Apart from Watson, Howlett and Hocking they do lack true hard ball get men. Melksham looks promising and hopefully Goddard can provide some steel and class. To be a little bit boring I just want to see the gap bewtween their very best and their very worst close up and when this consistency is achieved i think they will become a very good side.

Leave a Comment