Every AFL fan wants their team to improve in 2016. So while we patiently wait for the finals to get underway, here are a few points of interest and key questions your club has to consider in the off-season, as they start looking towards their 2016 campaign.
Essendon, here are five questions for your club to consider in the off-season. The obvious question, ‘What will happen with WADA’ will not be explored.
1) The need for speed – Do the Bombers take a risk on Yarran and/or Bennell?
The Bombers are slow, old and tired. With the never-ending (well, that’s what if feels like) supplements scandal hanging over their heads, it’s hardly a surprise.
The Bombers get torn to shreds in the middle of the park when they lack speed, flair and flexibility. Watson can be a contested king and Heppell oozes class. But they aren’t the quickest of players. Travis Colyer and Zach Merrett are the two players who can inject pace, energy and excitement into the Dons line-up. And those two players need help.
Chris Yarran and Harley Bennell are two speedy mids on the market who can play a multiple of positions, are highly skilled and are exciting, valuable players.
Yarran has seemingly been on the way out of Carlton since the beginning of the year. Richmond and North Melbourne are leading the race to sign 25-year-old, but could Essendon make a play for him? Yarran can play the small forward role, he can play as the sweeper across half-back, as well as provide outside run and speed in the middle. The knock on Yarran is his consistency. At 25, he should be in his peak, but since the departures of Betts and Garlett, and the downslide of the Blues, Yarran’s spark hasn’t been so bright.
Bennell is the riskier of the two. The 23-year-old utility is one of the most exciting, young talents in the league, but his off-field dramas has led to his departure from the Gold Coast. He’s on big money, with big talents, but is the risk too big for Essendon?
Bennell has 81 games and 92 goals to his name, and with the right environment and the right attitude, he could easily be a 250-gamer in the AFL. He is a creative, stylish and lightning quick talent who could change Essendon’s line-up immediately.
There are rumours swirling that North Melbourne will have to give up speedster Shaun Atley to land Jake Carlisle. Although, North Melbourne are also slow and will be hanging on to any speed they already have, so I doubt Atley will be in Essendon colours next season.
This is the ultimate high-risk, high-reward debate. The Dons need speed. Is it a risk worth taking?
2) What is the long-term solution for Essendon’s struggling ruck stocks?
Answer: Get Matthew Leuenberger or Zac Smith. Immediately.
Despite Tom Bellchambers signing a two-year contract extension, the Bombers’ ruck stocks can not compete with the likes of Sandilands, Jacobs, Goldstein, Mumford and Grundy.
Jonathon Giles crossed over from GWS last offseason and barely got a run. Shaun McKernan provided great energy for the latter part of the season, but rucking should be his part-time job, not his full source of income.
Matthew Leuenberger is on his way out of Brisbane via free agency, and Zac Smith has fallen behind Tom Nicholls up in the Gold Coast. Both are athletic, tall and quality ruckman at their best. Leuenberger, a former pick 4, has had a horrid run with injury, but still has a lot of quality football left in him.
Do what you have to do Essendon and make a play for one of these two ruckmen.
3) Fletcher and Carlisle out. But who is coming into Essendon’s defence?
Essendon’s defense will be getting some redecorating in the upcoming offseason. Club legend Dustin Fletcher has retired, Jake Carlisle has had enough and is going and Tayte Pears’ career remains in limbo with limited opportunities due to injury after injury.
Michael Hurley is coming off a wonderful season, and should be rewarded with an All-Australian selection once the final squad is announced. And Cale Hooker looks rejuvenated in the forward line, despite being an All-Australian defender. Even if Hooker goes back into defense next year, Essendon need another key defender in their squad.
The best options on the market seem to be GWS pair, Lachie Plowman and Adam
Tomlinson, both of whom have been linked to Carlton. Richmond’s David Astbury may be on the move, after struggling to break into the senior side since his injury.
Otherwise, should drafting a key position defender be the number one strategy on draft day?
P.S. Essendon list management. If Courtney Dempsey is indeed on the way out, you should be looking into Curtly Hampton from GWS.
Joe Daniher is a star in the making. If he gets his kicking right, he could be a legitimate forward threat for over a decade to come. But he can’t do it by himself, at least not at 21 years of age.
As mentioned above, Cale Hooker was a shining light up forward this year – kicking 21 goals – and providing an unpredictable factor to Essendon’s rigid forward set-up.
Youngster Shaun Edwards looks promising, and with a couple preseasons under his belt, he too could provide excitement up forward for years to come.
But Essendon need more.
Key position players are hard to find, but North’s Aaron Black and Collingwood’s Patrick Karnezis could be the ‘Tom Lynch of Adelaide’ for Essendon. If the club lands a quality ruckman, Shaun McKernan could play as a permanent forward as well. Geelong’s Josh Walker seems likely to be at Carlton next year, but should Essendon enquire about his services? Jeremy Howe is another on the market that can hold down a position up forward.
Another need up forward is a quick, small forward type. They have the Merrett brothers, but they need more options. Brandon Matera from the Gold Coast may be following Bennell out the door. Are these two players going to don the sash next year?
5) Melksham, Stanton and Cooney – Keep them or move them on?
Melksham would probably get the most interest out of the group, so should Essendon consider trading him for picks?
The Cooney experiment wasn’t a great success this year, whilst Stanton could be on his last legs, with possibly with another year or two left in him.
With a need for draft picks and young talent, should the Bombers move these three on?
And to finish off with a Bonus Question... Who is going to be the coach of Essendon next year?