Not meaning to be demeaning but the 2016 Essendon AFL side is a glorified VFL squad. The recipe for a competitive VFL team is there - young recruits, meticulously picked from the draft orchard mixed in with a healthy smattering of honest football staples, the VFL equivalent of flour, milk and bread, finally topped off with ageing AFL first-teamers who don't feel that it's time to go. Stir well and allow to sit and you have a viable VFL side.
Of course, this was to be expected. Losing 12 of your best players does that. Cobbling together a side from the cast-offs and recent retirees, hoping they’ll gel through a pre-season is straight out of the VFL recipe book. Sometimes the recipe rises. More often, it’s pot luck.
Given the circumstances, any other AFL side would perhaps fare no better without half their best players. In recruiting replacements, Dodoro again did what he could to address a depleted side from the recently delisted and VFL hopefuls.
With this backdrop, a fan’s usual exuberance and hope from a new season is naturally curbed. This year will be like watching the VFL side - fans do not hope for much except consolation if the senior side loses. In this case, the actual VFL side could potentially have more wins than its senior counterpart.
As a fan, that’s hard to swallow, but it’s our lot. This is a side held together by some potentially tenuous strings - an outsider head coach, a pummelled collective player psyche, an at times vitriolic consolation captain forced to bite his tongue and ten newcomers here for a five month AFL audition or a potentially ignoble coda to a respectable career.
The potential downside is all too obvious. The replacements having less than an AFL standard pre-season, the likely raft of injuries and a few thrashings would deplete the side physically and mentally. The coaching panel may opt for the “educational” game plan and the losses will start to mount.
There are also the young bodies. Excluding the new draftees, the average number of games played is 69. Take out Goddard and Cooney from that list, the number slides to 50. This is a young and relatively inexperienced side. Over a five month stretch against men, young flesh can only survive so long.
This year will be a holding pattern; an empty year in the long running history of the Club. The reward for getting games into Langford, La Verde, Parish, and Francis won’t manifest until half a decade from now. For fans with a typical twelve-month long memory, that return on investment is too long to comprehend.
Since wins are too optimistic a likelihood, the rewards for me will be a bit of prognostication and speculation. Here are a few things to help entertain over the next five months:
A top-up player winning the best and fairest - There are non-top-up players that could win: Zac Merrett, Mark Baguley, even Goddard. However, they’re likely to receive the attention from the opposition’s better negators. That’s why someone with a point to prove like Dea or Crowley to take the top player prize.
Will the real David Zaharakis stand up? For all his last-second goal-kicking heroics, Zaharakis is hardly a model of mid-field consistency. With a more senior role in the middle, he has the opportunity and the responsibility to be THE man. He will face the better negators and won’t have the protective shelter afforded by a more mature midfield. If the past is a good predictor of the future…
Essendon’s percentage will be higher than the number of goals Joe Daniher will kick - This is a playful one. Can Essendon’s percentage get in the 30s? Can it fall into the 20s? At this point, that’s a little more than a goal for every five that the opposition kicks. While that number sounds depressing, it does feel like the norm for the year.