Despite a gallant 3 point loss to Sydney on Thursday night at the SCG, Ben Rutten’s 2021 version of the Essendon football club has a familiar look about them. They are literally the new version of the Baby Bombers 3.0. The term “Baby Bombers” was first rolled out during the VFL seasons of 1977 – 1979. Essendon had many up and coming young footballers such as Paul Van Der Haar, Shane Heard, Tim Watson, Merv Neagle, Neil Clarke, Glen Hawker, Roger Merrett & Terry Daniher. The side would show glimpses of brilliance but it took until 1983 for the Don proteges, coached by Kevin Sheedy, to really take flight. Essendon scored back to back premierships in 1984 -1985 with this core group of youngsters. The youth blended into a fearless group of footballers who weren’t afraid of past reputations of their opponents. They destroyed a normally dominant side in Hawthorn twice in a grand final after receiving an absolute 83 point pasting by the Hawks in 1983. As good sides do, they learned from their grand final failures and returned serve to Hawthorn with a vengeance.
Come 1993 and the 2.0 version of the Baby Bombers was rolled out. Mark Mercuri, James Hird, Joe Misiti, Steven Alessio, Dustin Fletcher, Ricky Olarenshaw, David Calthorpe and Paul Hills were part of a successful premiership team of 1993. Many pundits have argued that the Baby Bombers of 1993 were lucky in defeating Carlton and their window of opportunity hadn’t really arrived. The Essendon team of that era took their chance when they had it and cashed in big league with a flag.
With the 2021 season now in full swing, the new young names at Windy Hill have a very familiar look and feel about them. Players with a mere handful of games were given serious roles and reveled in the pressure this game produced by a much improved Swans outfit. The 200 cm tall Nik Cox had everyone in awe with his speed & incredible agility for his size. Cox played in the ruck and when he wasn’t doing that he was kicking goals on the run. All done with just 4 games of AFL experience. Defender Nick Hind showed plenty of dash at the back and sent Essendon into attack on a couple of occasions.Another defender who did a superb job was Archie Perkins who was playing only his second game of AFL. He like Hind, played a very serviceable defensive game. Forward Harry Jones was another player given enormous responsibility on the forward line. He floated around the centre half forward and half forward positions and got some excellent usage of the ball. Jones kicked a clutch goal in the 3rd term and again showed great maturity for a player who has only 4 games under their belt. Defender Brandon Zerk-Thatcher showed promise whilst on-baller Brayden Ham picked up a lot of touches and was handy around the packs. Forward Alec Waterman also showed poise despite only playing his second AFL game. Waterman looks to be a very crafty forward, who has great awareness in a pack environment. He scored two goals during the game and will be a menace to other teams in the future.
Coach Ben Rutten who took over from John Worsfold has definitely made a big difference in club culture and strategy. The current team is enthusiastic, they play an attractive form of running type football and will trouble higher placed sides during this year. Under Worsfold, the Dons couldn’t break past a 7th or 8th positioned side and struggled to shake off the Supplement Scandal of recent years. The new Baby Bombers have no sense of history in that area. They look like they enjoy their football and are not in anyway intimated by the pressure cooker atmosphere of the SCG. The Dons are on the right track and who knows this team may go on to grow into a premiership side. They’ve had several rough seasons and are looking to better days.
As for the Swans, they are the surprise packet along with Melbourne of the 2021 season thus far. No-one would have picked the Swans to be 4-0 and sitting 3rd on the AFL table. They are playing a superb running style of football and as football cliches go, its a handy combination of youth and experience. Josh Kennedy, Luke Parker, Sam Reid, Jake Lloyd, Dany Rampe and Lance Franklin did their part in the Swans close win. The inexperienced young Sydney guns similar to the Essendon youth, have zero fears about the pressure or opponent. They get on with the business of playing footy. Chad Warner, Logan McDonald, Braeden Campbell, Errol Gulden, Justin McInerney and Sam Wicks have only a handful of games between them. Three of this group were in the top ten of ball getters for Sydney which is not a bad effort.
The interesting thing to see with the current Sydney group is how they will deal with adversity which is already creeping into the team line-up. Power forward Isaac Heeney suffered a broken hand and will be missed up forward for several weeks. One wonders who will cover for Heeney? Justin McInerney could step up. He booted 2 goals and was very capable in and around the forward zones. Tom McCartin who has been given the role of centre-half back still has plenty to improve upon. Tall Essendon forward Cale Hooker gave McCartin plenty to work with as the big unit seemed to push aside McCartin on a couple of occasions and kick goals.
Lastly, many were crying out that the umpires cost Essendon the game. The umpires in our opinion were pretty average for both teams and a few holding the ball decisions weren’t paid. Bomber fans argued over the weekend on whether Swans ruckman Tom Hickey wasnt called for holing the ball. That call was a million miles away from the Essndon goal and there were too many variables to go exactly right for Essendon with only 1 minute and less remaining of the game. The Dons had plenty of shots on goal they should have made, but they didn’t.
Essendon coach Ben Rutten whilst obviously disappointed, did not lose sight about the experience gained for his younger players when we asked him about their contribution “Yeah those boys were fantastic as was Nic Cox and Waterman who kicked a couple of goals and was really important for us in front of goals. It was another game in a hostile environment up here in Sydney. Conditions were dewy, a small ground, a good contested team. It was a fantastic exposure for them to get a look at the level we need to continue to keep striving for. It was a great learning experience for them”.
The season of 2021 is well and truly underway with a new look brand of football being played in excellent manner by the Sydney Swans and Essendon
SYDNEY 2.5 7.9 9.11 11.17 (83)
ESSENDON 4.1 7.4 10.6 12.8 (80)
Sydney: Franklin 3, Reid 2, McInerney 2, Parker, Florent, Mills, Papley
Essendon: Stringer 3, Hooker 3, Waterman 2, Cox, Smith, Parish, Jones
Sydney: Parker, Warner, Florent, Kennedy, Franklin, Reid
Essendon: Parish,Heppell, Ridley, Cox, Stringer, Waterman, Hoooker
Umpires: Nick Foot, Craig Fleer, Jacob Mollison
Sydney: Heeney (right hand)
Sydney: James Bell (replaced Isaac Heeney)
Essendon: David Zaharakis (unused)
Crowd: 28,039 at the Sydney Cricket Ground, Driver Avenue Moore Park, Paddington, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia