- 2018 RECORD: 12-10
- HEAD COACH: John Worsfold, 3rd season (27-40 overall)
- BEST WIN: Round 19. Even though it didn’t play a major factor in their push for Finals action, a 43-point home win over the Sydney Swans was just what the doctor ordered.
- WORST LOSS: The Round 8 defeat to Carlton was by far the most deflating for the Dons, and not just because the Blues finished at the bottom of the ladder in 2018. In a Finals race that was neck and neck until the final match of the season, one more W could have made the difference.
- RETIREMENTS/CUTS: Matt Dea, Brendon Goddard, Josh Green, Matt Leuenberger, Jackson Marrett
- TRADES: Travis Colyer
- KEY ADDITIONS: Dylan Shiel
The Bombers surprised many by making the Finals in 2017, and fans had reason to be optimistic that the team had crawled out of the rubble after a five-year streak of on-field mediocrity and off-field controversy. With lots of offensive firepower and some good depth, Essendon looked like they could push further into the postseason. Unfortunately, the Dons dug themselves into a 2-6 hole and never recovered.
The good news was that midfield bulls Dyson Heppell and Zach Merrett were consistent as usual, and ruckman Tom Bellchambers held his own against some of the AFL’s best all season long. Young defender Aaron Francis received an AFL Rising Star nomination due to his strong work in the latter half of the season, and the 21-year-old Adelaide native has a bright future ahead of him.
Injuries played a big factor in the Bombers’ slide. Tall forward Joe Daniher, after enjoying a huge 2017 campaign, suffered a nagging groin injury that limited him to only seven games, while fellow forward Orazio Fantasia managed only 13. Therefore, the Bombers were left with a shortage of tall timber in the line of attack. Still, exciting young gun Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti chipped in with 26 goals, while prized recruit Jake Stringer led the team with 30.
The Bombers made a big splash in free agency when they landed former GWS star Dylan Shiel, who will combine with former teammate Devon Smith to bolster the Dons’ midfield. Despite an early-season suspension, speedy Irishman Conor McKenna showed marked improvement alongside Adam Saad (17 disposals per game) and Andy McGrath (19.9 per game) in the back end. Small forward Jake Long — son of former Bomber champion Michael Long — managed only two games due to a foot injury, but should be primed to blossom in 2019.
Can Essendon climb the ladder back to Finals contention in ’19? In their defense, they never quit in 2018 despite a horrific first two months, and they finished strong by winning six of their last nine games down the stretch. With an excellent midfield and better luck on the health front, the Dons have the ingredients to take the next step. Still, the Bombers have an AFL-long 14 seasons without a Finals win, and their fanbase is acutely aware of that. And if 2018 is any indication, it’ll be a crowded Finals field once again, so they’ll need to be in top form consistently in order to make a big run.