Home » Essendon leave middle of the road behind as their ‘edge’ leads them to second spot | Jonathan Horn

Essendon leave middle of the road behind as their ‘edge’ leads them to second spot | Jonathan Horn

Essendon did what they were supposed to do. It wasn’t a game for the ages. It was a far cry from the 52-goal shootout between the two clubs in 2001. After the comeback and last ditch win at the Adelaide Oval, the controversial finish at the MCG, the mauling at the Gabba, the demolition in Darwin and the masterclass at the SCG, it was all very much by the book. The Bombers’ opponents were young and willing but couldn’t go the distance. A bit sluggish early, the Dons gradually found their groove.

The win moved them to outright second on the ladder. Discounting the opening round last year, when they thrashed Hawthorn by 10 goals and sat atop the table for four days, they haven’t been in this position since the early months of the supplements scandal.

There were more than 43,000 people at the Docklands – not bad for an early afternoon Sunday game on a rotten Melbourne day. Essendon is very much a short-back-and-sides team. There’s no real enigma to them. They needed to get fitter and they did. They beat the teams they should. They draw with the teams they’re even with. And they lose to the top teams.

Given the past 10 or 20 years, that can’t be a bad thing. They’re now winning the games they’ve been tossing away since Stephen Dank first waddled in. When North Melbourne dominated stoppages and centre clearances early, you suspect the Essendon of yore would have put up the white flag. But they adapted, they upped their work rate, and they reasserted control.

After being destroyed by Port Adelaide’s Connor Rozee and Jason Horne-Francis in early April, the Bombers have absorbed the criticism and addressed their deficiencies. A lot has been spoken about the “Essendon Edge”. It’s not as though it was a media construct. It was an in-house comms strategy. It’s like giving yourself a nickname. It’s like George Constanza calling himself “T-Bone”.

Peter Wright has returned from a four-week suspension to boot six goals in three matches for Essendon. Photograph: Dylan Burns/AFL Photos/Getty Images

Twitter, or X, is a total trainwreck these days, populated by lunatics, cam girls, grifters, professional bores and zinger merchants. But one thing’s guaranteed – whenever the Bombers are playing, “Essendon Edge” will be trending. They opened themselves up to that. David King, who’s not exactly on close terms with the coach, compared it to the tooth fairy.

But the Bombers have backed it up. A lot of credit goes to coach Brad Scott, who has targeted opposition weaknesses, adapted his own team’s modes accordingly and made an honest team out of a bunch of players who weren’t always renowned for their robustness or reliability. It’s worth remembering that Ross Lyon and Alistair Clarkson didn’t want a bar of the Essendon job.

Many thought the club had settled when they appointed Scott. But he’s doing an excellent job. Not all coaches are so hands on. Some back their system – “this is how we play, good luck beating us.” Ken Hinkley, for one, often presents at the Power’s games like a man waiting for a bus. He leaves the magnet manoeuvring to his assistants upstairs. But Brad, like his twin Chris, and like Luke Beveridge, is a horses-for-courses coach, and very astute when it comes to identifying trends, pinpointing weaknesses and changing on the fly.

Essendon are outright second, but they’re one and a half wins, more than 50 percentage points, and two or three champions shy of Sydney, who are in extraordinary form right now. Being this far ahead of the pack in late autumn guarantees nothing of course. Western Bulldogs (2021) and Melbourne (2022) both had a bigger percentage at this point of the season, and both came up short.

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But the Swans are tough, they’re well balanced, they’re great to watch and they’re packing out the SCG every time they play. They’re clearly the benchmark. Nearly every premiership aspirant – Melbourne, Collingwood, GWS and Carlton – have stood revealed against them. The only team to rattle them – Richmond – was switched on and at full strength, on their own deck, in the late March haze.

Seven weeks on, and the Tigers are in as deep a hole as they have been in for more than a decade, and the Swans have gapped the rest of the competition. The fact that it is the Bombers leading the chasing pack wouldn’t exactly send shudders through the Swans. But since Gather Round, the Bombers have won back a lot of trust and a lot of respect. Now we’ll find out whether they’re a team for the long haul.