28/02/2024
Jye Caldwell Essendon

Jye Caldwell and Darcy Parish were in full flight on Wednesday. Photo: Essendon FC

Finishing 16th in the league for contested possessions per game last season, Essendon will be delighted with Jye Caldwell's best on ground performance in its intraclub on Wednesday.

Finishing 16th in the league for contested possessions per game last season, Essendon will be delighted with Jye Caldwell’s best on ground performance in its intraclub on Wednesday.

He may have only played a half of football, but it was everything supporters needed to see from the 21-year-old as he sets his sights on a breakout 2022.

Caldwell arrived at the Hangar ahead of the 2021 season, with Adrian Dodoro finalising a deal with counterpart Jason McCartney in the final minutes of the trade deadline. The Giants were desperate to keep ahold of the contested midfielder, who they took with Pick 11 in the loaded 2018 draft.

Soft tissue injuries had cruelled the early stages of his career, and again in 2022 Caldwell dealt with a lengthy calf concern from Round 2. He was a surprise inclusion into their elimination finals side six months later.

Jye Caldwell on Wednesday. Photo: @CharlieDons Twitter

It didn’t take long for fans to understand why he was brought straight back into the fold. He paced all players on the ground with nine disposals in the first quarter, showing his trademark aggression in wet conditions.

Caldwell ran out of gas in the second half and didn’t impact, but he had flashed his propensity to win the contested ball.

The Bombers were a bottom four side for contested possessions per game in 2021. Conversely, the top four in this statistic was made up of Grand Finalists the Demons and Dogs, and top four powerhouses the Lions and Power.

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To get to the level of the best in the league, Essendon needs to address its ball-winning ability and lend help to All-Australian Darcy Parish.

It drafted Ben Hobbs – the best pure contested midfielder in the pool – with Pick 13, but Caldwell is the man to take its midfield to the next level right now.

His performance in Wednesday’s intraclub was so good the club put him on ice in the second half. He was far and away the best player on the ground, weaving through traffic with consummate ease and timing his disposal to perfection.

He offers the rare skill of passing his teammates open, leading them into space with handballs on time and on the money despite the duress he’s under winning the hard ball.

Despite years of injuries, the 21-year-old still possesses the necessary burst of pace to free himself from congestion. He tackled with vigour and was duly rewarded multiple times with the new holding the ball interpretation.

The highlight of the Dons’ hit-out came when Caldwell won the clearance out of the middle of the ground and sent it forward 50 metres. He then buttered up his work, winning the next contest in the forward 50 before sidestepping a would-be tackler and slotting his shot at goal.

In two 25 minute quarters with no time on he finished with 14 disposals, six tackles and a goal.

His pre-season has been uninterrupted, and his performance reflected it.

With reliance heaped upon the shoulders of Parish and Zach Merrett, another ball-winner will be vital for the Bombers to contend in 2022. They need to find a way to bridge the near-20 contested possession gap between them and the premiers.

In Caldwell, they have their man.

SSP spots coming down to the wire

The Bombers have trialled a number of players in the off-season, with two potential supplementary selection period list spots up for grabs. It’s expected they only take the one player to leave options at the mid-season draft that has snagged them Will Snelling and Sam Durham in past year.

If the club does decide to go with one player now, it will be extremely difficult to split the potential of Tex Wanganeen and Nic Martin.

Wanganeen – the son of club legend Gavin – had a stellar impact on the intraclub. He uses the ball beautifully with a fluid kicking action and kicked two goals including a crafty finish in the second half.

He has dealt with injury over the past 12 months and hasn’t been able to play a competitive game, but an eye-catching pre-season with the Dons has him firmly in their sights.

The Western Australian Martin was one of the best players on the ground on Wednesday, booting four goals and showing impressive forward nous. He’s a wonderfully balanced player, rarely losing his footing and finding dangerous spots in the forward 50 consistently.

The Dons will have a tough decision on their hands if they only choose to use the one spot in the pre-season.

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