Bombers players get ready to pose for their team photo (Image: Brandon Patane - The Inner Sanctum)

With the emergence of young stars, and the addition of some new recruits over the off-season, competition for places in the Essendon midfield will once again be intense in 2024.

Club captain Zach Merrett and superstar on-baller Darcy Parish have had a tight grip on their spots for a number of years, but names like Ben Hobbs, Jye Caldwell, Archie Perkins, Sam Durham have definitely impressed alongside them.

Nic Martin starred on the wing last season, the experience of Dylan Shiel will be valuable once again, and the arrivals of Xavier Duursma and Jade Gresham are also more than welcome given their versatility. It is clear that head coach Brad Scott will have plenty to think about ahead of the Bombers’ season opener on March 16th.

Entering his sixth season at the Dons, veteran midfielder Dylan Shiel is excited by the work that the group has been putting in, but is ultimately more focused on getting himself right after his injury.

“It’s all hard work, which is great, and these guys have certainly applied themselves to getting the hard work done,” he said.

“I guess that’s where the strength of Brad and the coaches [will] come in, to really channel where that hard work is applied.

“All I can focus on right now is getting my body healthy… getting out there and training with the guys, feeling really good and confident with my body, and then handing it over to the coaches who are in control of how they want to play me.

“If that’s playing AFL at midfield level which obviously is my primary role throughout my career, then excellent. If it’s a different role and I need to take a bit of an approach to help develop the younger crop of guys coming through… then that’s what’s best for the footy club.

“I’ve got no expectations on what the year looks like, I’m just taking it week by week.”

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Dividing his time between the midfield and forward line throughout the early stages of his career, Archie Perkins is one young star who has yet to lock down a permanent role in either area. However, he feels that his ability to impact in both areas will be beneficial in the long run.

“I think being around the ball more has always been a goal of mine,” he said.

“[However], the ability to play both positions, forward and mid, I think a lot of players are going to be in that same boat this year for us.

“The ability to impact in both areas of the ground is a strength of mine… so I think with the pre-season I’ve had and the confidence I’ve got in my game, I think no matter where I play on the ground I’ll be able to have a big impact.”

One new recruit who is very similar in his ability to rotate through both of those areas, Jade Gresham could be an important addition at the Bombers in 2024. Perkins spoke about what the former Saint has brought to the side thus far.

“He just adds another dynamic to our forward line I think,” he said.

“[He’s] very dangerous around the goals and in the forward half, and he’s obviously proven that as a consistent performer for the Saints over a long period of time.

“He’s ready-made to come in and have a big impact.”

Speaking on the group as a whole, Shiel showed great excitement for what the future holds but also stressed the importance of being patient and letting things develop properly.

“We’ve got a very young, exciting, enthusiastic group,” he said.

“I think we can get caught up on the teams that have done it really quickly in the past like the Richmonds, and those sort of clubs that have gone from 13th to winning a premiership in one year.

“We don’t want to get caught up on trying to change it super quickly. We want to do it the right way so that when, if we can be playing finals football soon, that it’s going to be sustainable for this group.”

Essendon will return to the field on Friday, February 23 in a match simulation against St Kilda at RSEA Park, before heading to GMHBA Stadium to take on Geelong in the AFL Community Series on Friday, March 1.

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