Essendon’s comeback season came crashing back down to earth on Saturday at the hands of the Sydney Swans but not all was lost on what, in the grand scheme of things, was an overly successful season for the club.
The cloud that was the supplements saga, which set the club back years both on the field and off it, has been lifted off the club at last and the positives of 2017 far outweigh the negatives.
Off the field, the club recorded more members than ever before with a 17.87% increase to 67,768 this year, while they’re also set to record a profit in excess of $4 million, a result that will help them greatly in reducing debts accrued from the drugs saga.
On the field, Andrew McGrath starred from the get-go and capped off his debut season with the NAB Rising Star award.
Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti not only endeared himself to fans of the club but established himself as one of the top pressure players in the competition.
Orazio Fantasia showed the potential to become one of the game’s elite small forwards in years to come.
Joe Daniher announced himself as one of the game’s premier key forwards.
Conor McKenna dashed his way out of the backline to earn himself a new four-year deal.
Zach Merrett put his name in the conversation to be one of the game’s best midfielders in the not too distant future.
All of these players (McGrath aside) benefited from the struggles in the club’s 2016 season which saw them lose 10 players from their best 22.
Three of those players play inside the forward 50, a forward 50 which excelled this season. The Bombers had the third best attack in the competition, averaging over 91 points per game this season.
Not mentioned on that list of players was the returning Cale Hooker who proved more than an adequate partner in crime for Daniher this season.
Hooker remains one of the best contested marks in the competition, ranking fourth for total contested marks for the second consecutive season that he has played in.
He also booted 41 goals, a nice compliment to Daniher’s 65. Third option James Stewart also managed 22 goals in 16 games this season.
Essendon has been touted as one of the favourites to pursue Jake Stringer in the off-season in a move that baffles this writer.
Stringer had a down year at the Dogs and while his value might be at an all-time low, that’s certainly not enough of a reason to go after him.
The Dogs will be after more than reasonable compensation for him as well (despite not being in a position to if media reports are true) while he will command a salary north of $650,000 once his contract runs out next season.
There’s no doubting his potential to be an A-grade forward however he shouldn’t be the Bombers’ number one priority this off-season.
Essendon ranked dead last in clearances per game this season, 14th for tackles and astonishingly, 12th for inside 50s.
With Josh Kelly’s future seemingly decided, Brisbane’s Tom Rockliff is considered a more than 50/50 chance to leave the Lions, and the elite midfielder has certainly displayed his ability to win the ball in the contest on countless occasions.
Regardless of whether the Dons are able to land Rockliff or someone of a similar ilk, Stringer should not be placed high on John Worsfold’s wish list.
Josh Begley also showed plenty of promise in his first few senior games while Aaron Francis, who still has two more years on his contract, is more than capable of playing a similar role to the one Stringer would should he be able to stay fit.
As Matthew Lloyd said, he can become anything if he has “the biggest preseason of his life.”
Some may say Essendon have overachieved in 2017 but regardless of that, they have had a fantastic 2017.
They now have the cap space to go after a big fish this off-season but must be wary of what they spend that on.
A poor decision now could hurt the club in the long term as they look to enter their next period of sustained success.