Funny what a heart to heart does. Ever since that 100-point thrashing at the hands of St Kilda, the effort has returned, even if skill hasn’t quite projected in the same way. For a side with so many young and inexperienced players, the game flows like a wave reaching the shore - strong and robust at first but as it reaches the sandy beach, the inertia peters away to gentle lapping.
The need to proverbially blood younger players is essential now. Without the senior bodies of Watson, Chapman, Colyer and Cooney providing shelter, these players will now have to show what they have and whether they could build the foundations for the next great Essendon side.
So, are these players, given a chance to show their wares, good enough?
Asking for a famous number brings with it a bit of expectation. In the case of O’Brien, that was probably lower than for previous owners of the #10. With less than ten games to his AFL career, O’Brien earned a call up to the senior side with a phenomenal two months in the VFL averaging 30 possessions.
Comparing the VFL and AFL data shows a significant reduction in possession count with the upside of a boost in efficiency. What does this suggest? At the lower level, O’Brien is likely to have had a more offensive role, allowing him more freedom to create and freewheel. At the senior level, he is obviously more a negator and the reduction in disposals is a natural outcome.
What does this say about his future at Essendon? Is he a midfield powerhouse or a negator when Watson and Hocking return? Does he add anything new to the squad that it currently lacks?
The data, particularly from the VFL, suggests that Nick is more likely to be an inside and link player able to release the ball from contests. He is not particularly fast and he was recruited to be a half-forward. To date, he has shown to be a moderately useful player but he would need to break out over the last few months to lock in a position in the side.
If Essendon was able to find a fast, goal-kicking winger, O’Brien is unlikely to have a spot.
Verdict : Jury is still out but there are signs.
Ashby is another player who inherited a number with history. Recruited as a half-bank flanker, to date he has only partially fulfilled this role. Unlike O’Brien who has had a burst of productivity, Ashby has been a steady contributor to the VFL side, with average disposals in the teens and a half a dozen tackles.
Perhaps the story with Ashby is more about the decline of Dempsey rather than any outstanding form. His decision-making under pressure, particularly in one-on-one contests, is a little panicked. Furthermore, his single-digit possession average in the seniors, even if limited by the green substitute best, doesn’t really spur confidence.
The lack of general game time (60% average time on ground) hasn’t helped his confidence. But of what he’s shown, there appears to be a general tendency to suppress any flair. The adherence to a defensive game plan, and therefore satisfying the coaching team, might actually be limiting his capacity to be a greater player.
Verdict : Without more game time, unlikely to flourish
When Kav! slipped down to Essendon in 2011 due to injury, the hope was that he’d be just like that other maimed draftee, Heppell. It had all the hallmarks of an Essendon steal - a highly rated midfielder who barracked for the Club and hinted as much throughout that year.
Since then, Kavanagh has had little opportunity to influence an AFL game. The embarrassment of not receiving any interest when he sought a trade, he had no other option but to knuckle down and put the work in.
To date, his VFL record has been good. Averaging twenty-one possessions and seven tackles is decent output. His first game at senior level garnered a 25-disposal game in round 10 and all seemed golden. Since then, his output has regressed significantly. While always a good handball, Kavanagh’s usage at AFL level has skewed too far away from kicking and overall disposals have ebbed away.
Unless Kavanagh excels in the VFL in the same way that O’Brien has, it is difficult to see him play too many games late in 2015. He would have to hope for an injury to a midfielder like Zach Merrett (touch wood) to get back in the side.
Verdict : has to make a mark in the VFL otherwise the AFL window (at Essendon anyway) closes