Essendon supporters have been in this position before.

It was only 12 months ago their team was sitting 4-2, albeit just coming off an extraordinary loss to Collingwood on Anzac Day, despite leading by 28 points at the final change.

Since that defeat, the Bombers won seven of their remaining 17 matches in 2023, ultimately falling short of September action once again.

Hopes dashed.

But, with another trip around the sun, another opportunity presents itself as Brad Scott's men enter the 29th edition of the sacred game that celebrates and pays tribute to past and present veterans who served their country.

Historically, the Pies have had the wood over Essendon, claiming 17 victories in the highly anticipated match, including seven of the last nine.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 25: Magpies and Bombers teams stand in line for a minute silence during the ANZAC observance during the round 6 AFL match between Essendon and Collingwood at Melbourne Cricket Ground on April 25, 2019 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Michael Dodge/Getty Images)

But like Bombers fans would like to believe, this year feels different.

Scott and his side have a different look to 2023, thanks to the additions of Ben McKay, Todd Goldstein, Jade Gresham and Xavier Duursma in the off-season.

The emergence of Sam Durham and Archie Perkins (injured), has been exciting, while a reignited Jake Stringer has, for not the first time, come to the party during the last year of a contract.

Forward Harrison Jones' full pre-season has him reaching new heights, both literally and metaphorically, that Bombers fans were hoping for in previous seasons.

Captain Zach Merrett is playing inspired football, doing the hard yards without the ball while the club's decision to give away a pair of picks for Jye Caldwell is starting to pay off.

Even the positional switch for former skipper Dyson Heppell to the halfback line has increased dividends in the early stages of the season.

But that's all surface-level observations.

Let's look deeper.

2023 2024
Contested Possession 16th (130.4) 8th (133)
One Percenters 14th (45.1) 9th (43.8)
Clearances 18th (33.7) 5th (37.8)
Tackles 16th (57) 6th (61.2)
Tackles i50s 15th (10.3) 5th (12.5)
Intercepts 13th (66.9) 6th (69)
Inside 50s 15th (50.4) 10th (52.3)
Goal Assists 9th (8.7) 6th (9.2)


Despite showing glimpses last year, the Bombers, on average, weren't good enough without the ball.

Their willingness to fight and scrap for possession was non-existent and multiple times the AFL world saw the white flag go up, reflected by crucial contests against Western Bulldogs (Round 19 - 41 point loss), GWS (Round 23 - 126 points) and Collingwood (Round 24 - 70 points) in the back half of the season.

Scott's scathing critique following the loss to the Pies was a wake-up call for the club, seeing 15 players head to the United States for a two-week training camp in the summer months.

Stringer returned in the best shape of his career (and it shows) while a selfless attitude has swept through The Hangar.

"Players ultimately have to buy in," Scott said in February.

"We've got to set the framework, got to set the program and ultimately the most important part of my job is to hold the players accountable to the standards and expectations that we set."

So far in 2024, the Bombers have delivered, for the most part.

Victories against fellow contenders St Kilda, Western Bulldogs and Adelaide were significant moments.

ADELAIDE, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 19: Zach Merrett of the Bombers celebrates a goal during the 2024 AFL Round 06 match between the Adelaide Crows and the Essendon Bombers at Adelaide Oval on April 19, 2024, in Adelaide, Australia. (Photo by Sarah Reed/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

The win against Hawthorn got the season started while losses to top-four fancies Sydney and Port Adelaide were to be expected.

Speaking on 3AW's Wide World of Sports, defender Nic Martin spoke on the "biggest shift" he has seen in the past 18 months.

"The growth just keeps coming and I think the improvement is there," Martin said.

"I think the biggest shift I've seen since Brad's come in is our ability to communicate with each other on the field.

"Our ability to respond to challenges and it's hard to go past Zach (Merrett) for how he leads on the field, but I think the great thing about our club is we're privileged to have strong leaders around him."

The Bombers currently sit in seventh position on the ladder and could start to set up their season over the next month.

After the Pies on Thursday, Essendon have clashes with West Coast (Optus Stadium), GWS and North Melbourne at Marvel Stadium, before the annual Dreamtime at the 'G against Richmond.

If Scott's men were to notch another quartet of victories across the next five (with three expected against the lowly Eagles, Kangaroos and Tigers), they'll likely place themselves well within reach of the top four.

Everyone knows the history of Essendon's failed September record, dating back to 2004 for their last win in the finals. But, you have to get there first, and so far in 2024 the Bombers are doing everything right.

And a win on Anzac Day may be the proof in the pudding.