Australian Rules Football
Australian Rules Football 2021 Season Previews: Essendon Bombers. Essendon’s Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti kicks for goal (AAP)

Australian Rules Football 2021 Season Previews: Essendon Bombers

Welcome, cherished Vendetta readers, to our very first article on Australian Rules Football. Being an Australian, it was surely only a matter of time before I turned your collective eye to my national sport.

For those of you unfamiliar with the game, I can only say that it’s a sport that combines speed, endurance, strength, skill, and sheer brutality in a way that few other sports can: it is not a sport for the feint of heart. The meek may inherit the earth, but they won’t win you a game of football.

Rather than explaining the sport to you in minute detail, I’d rather let you learn the nuances of the game at your own pace, in your own way. There are so many YouTube clips you can search at your leisure that will give you a handle on the game. Rather, this series of articles is going to centre on season previews for all eighteen teams.

Before we get to the first of those previews, a small yet vital bit of housekeeping: it’s called FOOTBALL. Not Aussie Rules, nor AFL. I acknowledge that in the States you have your own game commonly referred to as football. You all know the one: it’s that sport where you throw the ball. Obviously. No, our football is one where the ball is kicked! Outrageous, right? It’s kicked by men in tight sleeveless shirts called guernseys, as opposed to that medieval cosplay body armour your sport requires.

Finally, a pre-emptive note to my Vendetta colleague Gavin Daly, who is surely shouting from his pulpit that Association Football is the only real football. To him, I say this:

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Now, onto our first team: The Essendon Bombers.

2011 Essendon Football Club season - Wikipedia
Essendon’s traditional guernsey.

The Bombers have famously fallen short of any real success (it’s over 6000 days now since the Dons last won a final) since the departure of legendary coach Kevin Sheedy back in 2007. After years of underperformance, punctuated by some….ahhh….outside assistance, how does new coach Ben Rutten deal with the departure of a plethora of senior talent in 2021?

Season 2020

13th position (6 wins, 1 draw, 10 losses, 79.2%)

The Bombers were a mess last season. They appeared to have no discernible style of play, and a lack of on-field leadership when things turned south during games. Getting key forward Joe Daniher back on the park after a long injury layoff helped late in the season, but with him departing in the offseason the Bombers face a massive task in replacing his output.

Key ins: Peter Wright (Suns), Jye Caldwell (Giants), Nick Hind (Saints), Nik Cox, (draft), Archie Perkins (draft), Zach Reid (draft).

Key outs: Joe Daniher (Lions), Adam Saad (Blues), Orazio Fantasia (Power), Shaun McKernan (Saints), Tom Bellchambers (retired), Conor McKenna (retired).

Caldwell is a nice pickup, but Wright and Hind are not going to get Bomber hearts racing. The loss of dashing half backs Saad and McKenna, as well as skilled forwards in Daniher and Fantasia far outweigh the talent the team brought in.

That said, the team still boasts a strong midfield led by skipper Dyson Heppell, assisted by Dylan Shiel, Zach Merrett and Andrew McGrath. Devon Smith and Darcy Parish will also see considerable time on the ball. Sam Draper is a promising ruck prospect, but it may be too soon for him to assume first ruck duties.

The Bombers weaknesses are at either end of the field. Daniher is a huge blow to that forward line. His ability to pluck a mark from nothing is not an easy attribute to replicate, though his erratic kicking won’t be missed. So much will depend on what small forwards Parish and the electric Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti can contribute. Enigmatic forward Jake Stringer simply must make this his best year since his 2015 All Australian selection – when he was still a Bulldog – for the Bombers to stand any chance of a finals berth. At his best he’s a charismatic match winner, but a combination of injuries, attitude and off field distractions has seen him flatter to deceive in his four seasons as a Bomber.

In defense, dependable key big men Cale Hooker and Michael Hurley will continue to shoulder the load, though they’re not getting any younger. The club will be hoping that 23 year od Aaron Francis is ready to take on more responsibility in the back half.

Prediction: 16th

With so many unanswered questions around both their style of play under a new coach, and the drain of senior talent, the Bombers will surely continue to languish in the lower reaches of the AFL ladder in 2021.

There is enough talent on the list to cause an upset or two, but ultimately the Bombers are – or at least should be – thinking rebuild.