Essendon was beaten by Sydney in the 2017 elimination final. Picture: Phil Hillyard
Essendon was beaten by Sydney in the 2017 elimination final. Picture: Phil Hillyard

Bombers in best shape to break finals curse

Essendon chief executive Xavier Campbell believes the Bombers will have "no excuses" or distractions heading into 2019, but stopped short of guaranteeing the club would next year end a drought of more 5000 days without winning a final.

And he believes the addition of former Giant Dylan Shiel, as well as the repositioning of the club's list over the past 12 months - plus the lack of off-field distractions that have plagued the club for much of this decade - means the Bombers are edging closer to that elusive first finals win since 2004.

"I think we've really got a clear run at it," Campbell said of the club's prospects for next year.

"Obviously, there has been a range of distractions over the years, but … we can see the steps we are taking now.

"We don't have the distractions; our peripheral vision isn't cloud any more, and that's exciting.

"For the first time, it feels like we are approaching this season unencumbered of a whole range of (issues)."

Devon Smith won Essendon’s 2018 best-and-fairest. Picture: Michael Klein
Devon Smith won Essendon’s 2018 best-and-fairest. Picture: Michael Klein

Tuesday marked 5183 days since Essendon last won a final, when they beat Melbourne in an elimination final in 2004.

In that 14-year window without a finals win, Essendon was almost torn apart by the sports supplements scandal of 2012, with the resulting penalties from the AFL and WADA impacting heavily, with the playing list changing significantly, and with the psychological impact taking a huge toll on the players.

But now with the clear air afforded to the club, and with a reshaped list that saw Shiel added to the three significant 2018 additions in Devon Smith, Adam Saad and Jake Stringer, Campbell is confident the club can finally reward its long-suffering members in the not-too-distant future.

"We want to be challenged to play finals," he said.

"I think we want to get to the point where we are winning finals games.

"I know you want the headlines about finals … but our focus has to be on preparation and the pre-season.

"There are a lot of clubs going for it, (but) we live in an age where the competition is so even. Our list build was slightly interrupted four or five years ago.

"Our need to build or bust in our midfield was a clear priority and we have been able to achieve that, with adding Dylan to the side.

"We have a list that can really compete."

The addition of Dylan Shiel has bolstered the Bombers’ list. Picture: Jason Edwards
The addition of Dylan Shiel has bolstered the Bombers’ list. Picture: Jason Edwards

He said he had complete faith in coach John Worsfold and was confident the alignment issues at the start of last season - which saw the club sit at 2-6 after two months - won't be a problem in 2019.

"John spoke to the point of bringing in new players (Smith, Saad and Stringer) into the group last year, and three was significant," he said.

"It felt like the first third of this year … we didn't quite get it together. By the last two thirds of the season, we started to play consistent football, a clear brand of football and hopefully we will take that into the 2019 season."