At four wins and seven losses, with one of the oldest lists in the competition, Essendon have officially stamped their passports and are headed for the wintry climes of No Man’s Land.
In the past week, much has been made about the ‘dark cloud’ that continues to hover over Tullamarine as a result of WADA’s decision to appeal the AFL Anti-Doping Tribunal’s finding that the ‘Essendon 34’ were not guilty of consuming prohibited substances during 2011-12.
But there’s an equally troubling issue confronting the Bombers: at the midway point of the 2015 season they are languishing in 13th position on the ladder and have the third-oldest list in the league.
By Sunday night, they will be equal on wins with either St Kilda or Melbourne – the fifth- and ninth-youngest teams in the AFL respectively.
Of the top five oldest teams in the league, three of them are Fremantle, Sydney and Hawthorn. It doesn’t take a neurosurgeon to recognise that Essendon are the odd man out.
Yes, to a large extent they were forced to go down a certain path with regards to recruiting as a result of the devastating draft penalties they received for conducting their controversial supplement program.
However, there was also a school of thought at the club that they were ready to be a contender, and their list management strategy has reflected this.
At the end of 2012, Brendon Goddard came across from St Kilda as a free agent before the drugs scandal blew up.
Geelong veteran Paul Chapman followed suit a year later, and last year the Bombers’ recycled stocks were topped up again with the captures of Brownlow Medalist Adam Cooney, ruckman Jonathan Giles and key defender James Gwilt.
Fast forward to 2015. Goddard is a shadow of the man who won a best-and-fairest in his first year as a Bomber.
Chapman is just about done as a footballer, Cooney is being let down by sub-standard foot skills, Gwilt is just a serviceable back-up player to Dustin Fletcher, and Giles cannot get a look-in.
The Bombers opted to take on West Coast on Saturday without a recognised ruckman rather than select Giles – that’s how well the former GWS big man is travelling.
And when one considers Fletcher, Jobe Watson, Brent Stanton, Mark Baguley, Courtenay Dempsey, Heath Hocking and Jason Winderlich are either in or heading towards the twilight of their careers, it is quite evident that the Bombers are edging closer and closer to the precipice.
Having qualified for the finals in the past two years, the Bombers’ season will be as good as finished after their next meeting against Hawthorn in Round 13 – that’s a huge fall from grace.
This current Essendon list has gone as far as it can go and a rebuild is on the horizon.
The good news for the Bombers is that they can hit the ground running with that rebuild, because they will return to the first round of the national draft this year after serving their penance for their supplement program.
The bad news is that they will have to rug up and dress warmly for the next few years – because No Man’s Land is a barren, windswept place.